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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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Scannell keen for Munster's passing progress to pay off against Sarries

The inside centre says Johann van Graan’s men have been working hard on their attacking game.

MUNSTER’S TWO SEMI-final defeats last season hurt in more ways than simply the pain of losing big games.

They scored two tries on the Pro14 defeat to Leinster and managed to dot down thrice against Racing 92 in the European knock-out tie, but too often their basic handling ability was askew. 

Rory Scannell Scannell believes Munster's passing ability has improved. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The memory of passes floating into touch or going to ground – rather than to the intended receiver – remain strong.

“Our passing wasn’t good enough, we had too many forward passes and knock-ons,” says centre Rory Scannell, “lads having to check [their runs] to catch passes, you know?

“It’s probably something you’d only see catch you towards the business end of the season when you’re coming up against strong opposition but it’s something we’ve been working hard at for the year.”

Indeed, it’s an area that head coach Johann van Graan has focused on intently since the summer, and Munster believe the hard work is paying off.

The addition of players like Chris Farrell and Tadhg Beirne – comfortable in possession – has helped and recent examples like Keith Earls’ winning try against Edinburgh in the Champions Cup quarter-finals bode well ahead of Saturday’s semi-final clash with Saracens.

The last time Munster played the English side in Europe, at this stage two seasons ago, they offered next to nothing with ball in hand – even if that was partly down to Rassie Erasmus’ game plan.

Munster will need to show much more when they get attacking opportunities in Coventry this weekend and Scannell feels they are better equipped to take advantage.

“It’s good to see when you get a good attacking or counter-attacking try and last year with Johann coming in in the middle of the season, we’ve just been trying to slowly add stuff to our attacking game.

Keith Earls celebrates his second try with Peter O'Mahony and Rory Scannell Scannell celebrates Earls' try against Edinburgh. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We feel we’re 12 months down the line on that.

“So, when you see things like Earlsy’s try in Edinburgh coming off with a few good passes, a few good decoy lines – it’s pretty pleasing. Hopefully, we can get another few of them at the weekend.

“We do passing drills at the start of training every day as a squad. Even all the forwards have added that string to their bow, the tip-on passes that are really developing our attack and getting that channel a bit wider and stretching teams a bit more.

“It’s something we work on a lot, we see lads work on it after training – working on those extras whether it’s kicking, passing or carrying. It’s across the squad now, which is great.”

The challenge against Saracens will be multi-faceted, with Scannell citing their scrum and lineout as impressive, while stressing that Munster’s kicking game and kick chase need to be highly accurate against a “lethal back three.”

He also notes that Sarries have conceded just 37 tries in 19 Premiership games – “a pretty good stat” – as he highlights how difficult they will be to break down.

And yet, even while acknowledging that Saracens are firm favourites, Scannell feels Munster are better prepared than ever to break their streak of six consecutive semi-final losses.

“We’re going in as underdogs, there’s no doubt about that,” says the 25-year-old.

Rory Scannell Scannell feels Munster are better prepared for a semi-final than the last two years. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“They’re unbeaten in Europe this year, they’ve only lost two or three games in the Premiership and they’re a quality opposition across one to 15, and even two in most positions.

“Two years ago, a lot of our squad hadn’t been involved in a knock-out European game because the previous two seasons we hadn’t made it out of the group.

“So we looked back on it after that and we let the pressure get to us on the day, we weren’t firing really. Sarries were probably at their best at the time, we found ourselves chasing the game in that second-half.

“The last two years the majority of the squad have experienced those big knock-out European games. Hopefully, we’ve learnt from it.”

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Murray Kinsella

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