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'It was great to see how happy my parents were and I was obviously very happy to get it'

Niall Scannell is loving every minute of his first Six Nations experience and is hoping to win his second cap this weekend.

NIALL SCANNELL IS in a good place at the moment. It’s not quite pinch-me-I’m-dreaming territory for the Munster hooker, but you certainly get the sense he is enjoying every minute of life in Ireland camp.

By his own admission, things have happened very quickly for him over the last number of weeks and he hasn’t had much time to dwell on how far he has come; but at the same time he knows it has been a whirlwind season.

Niall Scannell Scannell on media duty earlier at Carton House. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Take two weekends ago in Rome, for example.

Having waited on the bench at Murrayfield for his debut moment on the opening weekend, Scannell was then catapulted into the deep end when Rory Best was struck down by a stomach bug.

There wasn’t much time for nerves — four hours, to be precise — but Scannell knuckled down and made sure he seized the biggest moment of his fledgling career to date.

With his parents and girlfriend in the crowd at the Stadio Olimpico, the Cork native produced a fine debut performance and, looking back on it now, he wouldn’t changed anything about the occasion or the hurried build-up.

“Obviously it was my first cap so I can’t really gauge it but all the lads said it was better being thrown in at the deep end so I’ll take their word for it and it all went okay, thanks be to God,” he said this afternoon.

“I was happy with the start. When I reviewed my performance afterwards, there’s a few things I could tidy up on but the occasion itself went okay and it was great to see how happy my parents were with the first cap and I was obviously very happy to get it.

“The philosophy in camp all the time would be to be ready, if you’re in the squad at all to be ready to go. There was no hesitation, you had to be ready to go and I felt I was. Thankfully I got the nod and it kind of kicked on from there.”

It was certainly a breakthrough moment for Scannell, who had previously represented Ireland at U20 level, and he noticed the difference in intensity throughout the game in Rome, even if it was a one-sided encounter.

Niall Scannell Scannell in action on debut against Italy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Every area was probably just that few per cent tougher, especially around the scrum, you have to be accurate with your line out, the general pace of the first half was just through the roof,” he continued. “Sometimes when games start like that at club level they tend to fall off a bit.

“I was probably better of not knowing at the time why it wasn’t falling off and it didn’t fall off. That’s I suppose, the difference with Test rugby but at this stage of my career I relish every opportunity.”

With Best back to full health for the resumption of the Six Nations this weekend, it remains to be seen whether Scannell will get an opportunity off the bench against France on Saturday.

Leinster’s James Tracy is Schmidt’s other option at hooker but you’d imagine the Munster an has done enough to be named as Best’s understudy for the visit of Les Blues.

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Either way, Scannell admits being in this environment alone is a huge learning experience and one he’s looking to take full advantage of.

“It’s all happened pretty quickly and unfortunately for Sean Cronin he got injured and that brought me into the squad and I’ve got a chance from there. It’s all happened quite quickly so I’m pretty much just relishing that I’m in the squad and I’ve got these opportunities.

“After the Championship I’ll probably sit back and reassess what we’ve to do with Munster and what I want going forward but the goal has changed pretty quickly for me the last few weeks and I’m really just trying to stay on task at the moment.

Niall Scannell The hooker at today's training session. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s definitely a peak in my career at the moment but it’s still early so it’s hard to gauge. This is all obviously very new to me so it’s just exciting and every training session is nearly a step up for me and that’s exciting.”

Regardless of his relative inexperience at this level, Scannell wouldn’t be human if he didn’t want to push for further honours and not just settle for being here alone but he’s fully aware of who he has to displace in order to get in the starting XV.

“At the moment, he’s our captain, he’s our leader and he’s very much helping me up here,” he says of Best.

“He’s the elder statesman so at the moment it’s not my priority; it’s just to get into the squad, trying to bed myself in to the team. I’m still learning calls and things like that so I don’t really think it’s on the cards at the moment. It’s not my primary objective.

“I do put pressure on myself to put my hand up but that’s probably just my personality as well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform and I take last week as an example. If you are prepped then you’re putting yourself in the best position to take that opportunity and that’s how I approach it and I haven’t strayed from that.

“I can’t really do anything about the external things, myself and James are having a battle up here and we’re still waiting to see who’ll be in this week so there’s pressure on yourself to get better and perform and hopefully if I do that I get the rewards.

“I’ll just have to wait and see.”

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