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Scannell's remarkable European record continues as Munster clash with Saracens

The 25-year-old still has big Ireland ambitions as he makes his 30th consecutive start in Europe for Munster.

RORY SCANNELL’S REMARKABLE run of consecutive appearances for Munster in the Champions Cup continues this evening as Saracens visit Thomond Park [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport].

The Cork man has played in every single one of Munster’s European games since his debut off the bench against Benetton as a 21-year-old in November 2015.

Today’s clash with Sarries will mark his 33rd consecutive Champions Cup appearance and his 30th consecutive European start.

rory-scannell Scannell has become a key man for Munster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Scannell, who turns 26 later this month, also became the youngest player ever to hit the 100-cap mark for Munster in March of this year, again underlining both how durable he is and how important a player he has been for the province in recent years.

He rarely grabs the headlines but the inside centre has often been an important presence on Munster’s best days, a glue-like influence who ties things together and delivers real consistency. 

“I was chatting with Pete [O'Mahony] recently and he was on 127 Munster caps, obviously a lot of Irish caps as well, but you look at it and he’s 30 with not too many more,” says Scannell, who is now on 115 Munster caps.

“It’s a nice honour to have. I only beat Jack O’Donoghue by about two games, so he wasn’t too happy!”

Although he’s still only 25, the sheer number of games Scannell has played and his ever-growing comfort in the Munster set-up means he has taken on something of a senior player role.

“When the lads were away at the World Cup, it was strange… obviously, the likes of Billy Holland were here with massive experience but we had quite a young squad and I found I was nearly one of the more experienced guys at 25, which is a bit bizarre.”

Scannell is passionate about wearing the red jersey, regularly playing alongside his brother, hooker Niall. Their younger brother, 20-year-old Billy, who is also a hooker, was part of Munster’s sub-academy last season but is now in France with Biarritz.

“It’s a big change for him but he’s really liking it so far,” says Rory, who explains that ex-Munster men Dave O’Callaghan and James Hart – who also moved to Biarritz during the summer – have been helping Billy to settle into French life.

With all three brothers in the professional game, it’s no surprise that the Scannells come from rugby stock, primarily on their mother’s side. Former Munster doctor Tadhg O’Sullivan is their uncle, with his son, Jack, now showing real promise as a number eight in the Munster academy.

“We’re very good at switching off,” says Dolphin RFC man Scannell of when he and the family – he also has a younger sister, Kate, who is studying Pharmacy in UCC – get together, although it’s clear how seriously he takes his job.

rory-scannell Scannell is becoming a senior player in Munster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Living in Limerick since Munster opened their high performance centre in UL in 2016, Scannell is unsurprisingly diligent with his recovery, partly explaining his ability to avoid injury.

“I’d be quite hard on the recovery side of things,” he explains. “The facilities here, medical staff, constant ice baths, recovery pumps at home – having all those things are an investment throughout your career.”

The fact that Scannell is a kicker – both from hand and, occasionally, off the tee – means he has extra hours on his feet out on the training pitch, accentuating the need for being on top of his recovery.

The kicking game is just one aspect of what Scannell brings for Munster as a ‘second-five-eighth’ in the 12 shirt, a role that hasn’t always been common in Irish rugby, which often had a preference for a bigger, ball-carrying inside centre.

Scannell played plenty of his rugby at out-half during his school days in Presentation Brothers College, meaning he has an appreciation for what a 10 needs from those outside him.

With former Wallabies out-half Stephen Larkham having come on board with Munster this season, Scannell’s role as a second playmaker has been magnified even more, with the Aussie senior coach encouraging him to take pressure off the out-halves by organising and providing constant communication.

“I played at 10 throughout school and I always enjoyed when guys outside me gave me that information,” says Scannell.

“At 10, you’re worrying about where the ball is or what’s directly in front and you might not see the space on the edge, so I’ve always tried to help my 10s out as much as I can, take a bit of pressure off them.

“It’s been different with Steve coming in too. I would have watched him a lot when I was younger and he was a quality fly-half. He’s helped my game massively in a short period and he likes when you take that responsibility off your 10s.

“For teams against us, it’s harder for them to know how to defend if you have multiple kickers and a good running game, so it’s hard to defend all of them!”

rory-scannell Scannell has playmaking ability. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Scannell stresses that kicking has become even more important in recent seasons – with Munster often using his left boot – due to defences getting better and better.

“I was watching the 2007 World Cup quarter-final on TV the other day, the All Blacks and France, and you can just see how much the game has changed! It’s ridiculous.” 

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His passing game means Scannell can deliver the ball into wide channels too, while he has worked hard to increase his physicality in the carry and tackle – something former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt asked him to do amidst intense competition for national team places in midfield.

“Chatting to Joe about the other centres… obviously, Chris [Farrell] is a massive man, Robbie [Henshaw] is a big boy and Bundee [Aki] is extremely powerful. Ringer [Garry Ringrose] is physical as well but also brings subtle little skills and running lines that are probably a bit different as well.

“Naturally, I wouldn’t be as big as those guys but I always enjoy the physical side of things in games.

“If I have a carry or tackle, I’m putting everything into it but I think the all-round game probably allows you to break one-on-one tackles because if you’re defending a guy and thinking that he can carry, kick, or pass, you’re more indecisive. So I’m trying to bring those three things to my game and it’s going well this season so far I think.” 

Scannell certainly has been impressive for Munster in the current campaign, which is all the more important given that Springboks inside centre Damian de Allende is set to arrive next season.

Scannell is of the mindset that competition for places would make Munster better as they continue to drive for the trophy they so desperately crave. Scannell is contracted through until 2021 and is determined to be part of his province finally earning silverware.

There is also the matter of his Ireland ambitions. Scannell has three caps to his name, all of them from the 2017 tour of the US and Japan, while he completed most of this year’s World Cup pre-season with Schmidt’s Ireland before being released early in August before the warm-up games.

“I knew I’d have my work cut out with the competition with all the centres but I put the head down, training went well, and I really enjoyed the experience,” says Scannell, who thinks it was the best pre-season he has put down in his career so far.

rory-scannell Scannell playing for Ireland against Japan in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was disappointing in the end not to be involved and I would have just loved to get a crack in one of the warm-up games but the way things went, getting lads game time, trying combinations, a certain amount of the squad were probably already picked and you have to play them, so not everyone got a crack.”

That’s all Scannell wants with Ireland – a chance to show he can survive and thrive at the top level. He was close to a Six Nations appearance last year, acting as the 24th man during the Grand Slam run, but he hopes new boss Andy Farrell will give him a shot.

“I was delighted to get capped on that tour [in 2017] and I would have loved to add a few more that November but I just missed out.

“I got back into the squad for the 2018 Six Nations and was disappointed not to get a crack, you always are. If I can keep getting better and if I get a crack, I have no doubts I can play to that level.

“There’s obviously a lot of competition in that position. So it might be down to someone else getting injured, which you never like to see, but sometimes you just need an opportunity to get your foot in the door.

“It’s something that I’m definitely pushing for, I really want to get in there and I’m trying my best every week to impress here.”

Munster:

15. Mike Haley
14. Andrew Conway
13. Chris Farrell
12. Rory Scannell
11. Keith Earls
10. JJ Hanrahan
9. Conor Murray

1. James Cronin
2. Niall Scannell
3. Stephen Archer
4. Jean Kleyn
5. Billy Holland
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
8. CJ Stander

Replacements:

16. Kevin O’Byrne
17. Liam O’Connor
18. John Ryan
19. Fineen Wycherley
20. Jack O’Donoghue
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Sammy Arnold
23. Arno Botha

Saracens:

15. Matt Gallagher
14. Rotimi Segun
13. Alex Lozowski
12. Brad Barritt (captain)
11. Alex Lewington
10. Manu Vunipola
9. Ben Spencer

1. Richard Barrington
2. Jack Singleton
3. Titi Lamositele
4. Will Skelton
5. Maro Itoje
6. Nick Isiekwe
7. Ben Earl
8. Jackson Wray

Replacements:

16. Kapeli Pifeleti
17. Rhys Carre
18. Josh Ibuanokpe
19. Joel Kpoku
20. Sean Reffell
21. Tom Whiteley
22. Max Malins
23. Nick Tompkins

Referee: Romain Poite [France].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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