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Scannell settled back in at Munster with Ireland's hooker spot up for grabs

The 27-year-old is keen to go to another World Cup with his country.

FORWARDS ENGAGING IN a bit of pushing and pulling after a scrum is nothing new, but it felt like there was a little extra edge to Munster hooker Niall Scannell and Ulster hooker Rob Herring trading shoves in Thomond Park two weekends ago.

Of course, we may have been imaging that extra spice simply because Ireland’s number two jersey is now up for grabs.

Rory Best has been in Brazil this week with the Barbarians as he concludes his career with the invitational team but the Ulsterman will be officially retired from professional rugby by next week.

niall-scannell Scannell is enjoying being back with Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Best era is over and new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is looking for his starting hooker. 

Scannell and Herring will be among the candidates, although the emergence of 21-year-old Rónan Kelleher at Leinster has ensured a very interesting wildcard is in the mix. 

33-year-old Sean Cronin will hope to recover from a neck injury to press his claim, but Scannell must surely be thinking that the door has opened for him. With 20 Test caps under his belt and having been back-up to Best at the recent World Cup, Scannell is certainly a strong contender.

He is, of course, back with Munster now and impressed in last weekend’s bonus-point win over the Ospreys, although Saturday’s clash with Racing 92 in Thomond Park would be a more pertinent place to convince the watching Farrell.

The World Cup ended miserably for every Irish player with their quarter-final hammering at the hands of New Zealand, but Scannell came away from Japan determined to ensure that he makes it back to the next World Cup in France in 2023.

“The World Cup, it was an experience,” said the Cork man in Limerick this week.

“Look, you’ve heard already, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to but having had a few weeks off to reflect, I’ve been able to look back and go, ‘Maybe two years ago I wasn’t odds-on to get on that plane.’

“So I think the work I put in between then and getting on the plane, I was delighted to get there and the experience certainly didn’t leave me down at all.

“I think the World Cup was an incredible experience to be part of. Even getting the involvement I did, I was quite happy with but obviously the ending just puts that bit of a sour note on it, which is disappointing.

niall-scannell Scannell made one start and three replacement appearances at the World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But I think if I look on it as an experience more so in my life as opposed to my rugby career, it’s a huge one. I worked hard for it.

“I’m grateful I got the opportunity. Obviously, I would have preferred if it had ended better but that’s just the way it is and it has probably given me a huge hunger to kick on and I definitely want to go to another one, if I can last it.”

If Scannell is going to go to now step up as Ireland’s starting hooker after Best’s retirement, he is aware that playing well for Munster is essential.

The late maul try against the Ospreys last weekend has given the province “a feel-good factor” leading into this challenge at home against Racing, whose defensive lineout – with former Munster man Donnacha Ryan influential – will certainly test Scannell’s throwing skills and composure.

Like the rest of Munster’s Ireland internationals, Scannell missed the pre-season with new senior coach Stephen Larkham, while new forwards coach Graham Rowntree only arrived in himself after the World Cup. It has meant plenty of getting to grips for Scannell and co.

“It’s just hugely exciting to work with two new coaches and Steve’s attacking philosophy is a bit different, that’s obviously been exciting,” said Scannell.

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“But don’t get me wrong, that first week when we played Ulster, it was tough to get to grips with within a week because there are a lot of subtle differences there and that was tough.

niall-scannell Scannell and Munster welcome Racing to Thomond Park on Saturday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

“I think it was only last week that I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable in it and I think we still have a huge way to go with it in terms of expanding that attacking philosophy that he has.

“And obviously with Graham, as a front row, that’s exciting, having a fella who is a legend of the game like that, just to get nuggets off.

“I obviously worked with Jerry [Flannery] since I was very young and I got a lot off Jerry, and I can’t thank him enough for all that he’s given me, but it is exciting to have a new voice.

“I’ve had Jerry and I’ve had Feeky [former Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek], and I think it’s good just to get a few more nuggets of information in the scrum. It’s something, obviously, that he loves and it’s a bit of a different energy, a different flavour around the place, which is good to have.

“Graham is high energy, which is brilliant, and he’s a good character. He made us feel very at ease straight away. The first thing he asked me when I introduced myself to him was, ‘What’s your nickname?’.

“He wants to just get in amongst the lads and get to know you, which I think is brilliant and it’s a good sign of a coach that he wants to get to know the person as well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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