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James Crombie/INPHO Scanlon scored a try on his Munster debut in 2011.
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Ex-Munster fullback Scanlon stepping into leader's role at Rotherham
The 25-year-old is excelling in the Championship, where he has five Irish teammates this season.

WITH JUST FOUR professional teams, Ireland is a rugby nation of limited opportunities for younger players.

While the level of competition created by that has obvious advantages, there are many talented players whose abilities are wasted through a lack of exposure in first team games.

Increasingly, the English Championship has become the refuge of those frustrated by sitting on the fringes of the provincial squads.

Limerick man Sean Scanlon is one player in that group, now preparing for his second season with the Rotherham Titans after a first in which he stood out as one of the finest fullbacks in the league.

The 25-year-old spent the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons on a development contract with Munster, excelling in both pre-season schedules before competition for places and then a serious back injury robbed him of the chance to stamp his quality on the Pro12 campaigns.

There was “good feedback” from head coaches Tony McGahan and Rob Penney, while Scanlon scored a try on his senior debut against Connacht in 2011. However, having fought back from a herniated disc in 2013, Scanlon recognised that he would have to look elsewhere as his contract came to an end.

My agent got in contact with a few different Championship clubs, but Rotherham seemed like the best fit for me. I talked to Eamonn Sheridan, who was my teammate with the Ireland U20s [in 2008]. He was at Rotherham the year before and got picked up by London Irish from there.

“I was chatting to him and Sean Dougall, who came to Munster from Rotherham, and both spoke very highly of the place. That’s what I made my decision on.”

Going from Munster, one of the biggest and best-run club sides in Europe, to Rotherham was a “huge” step, admits Scanlon. Having been used to the sheer scale of things in Limerick and Cork, there was some adaptation involved.

Sean Scanlon scores the last try for Munster ©INPHO / Billy Stickland Scanlon scores against Bristol in a pre-season friendly in 2012. ©INPHO / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

“Munster is an organisation, whereas Rotherham is a rugby club. It reminded me of one of the top AIL clubs being a professional club. You’re in the club training every day, it’s quite local. You know everyone that works for the club, you see them every day.

“You’d nearly know all the fans halfway through the season. We have that close-knit connection with the fans.”

The Titans play at the 2,500-capacity Clifton Lane, which is owned by the council and shared with the local cricket club. Gym sessions take place at the English Institute of Sport in nearby Sheffield.

Scanlon has proved a major success at the club, starting 22 games and scoring six tries last season as he helped them into the promotion semi-finals. His experience of working with “world-class players” at Munster left him well prepared for the Championship.

That’s the major reason I had quite a successful season. I experienced different styles of rugby in Munster and you learn so much from some of the players in Munster.

“I was training with these guys every day and learning from them and the coaches. I felt I had a lot more knowledge of the game than others over here.”

Head coach Lee Blackett has taken advantage of Scanlon’s abilities and mindset to push him into a leadership position, something he has enjoyed after being among the less experienced players in Munster’s squad.

“He does see me as a bit of a leader, he would come to me for a chat. He’s a back, so we chat about what kind of moves we want to run and how we want to play the game.”

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Sean Scanlon Morgan Treacy / INPHO The fullback picked up valuable knowledge at Munster. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Scanlon was not the only Irishman to impress at Rotherham last season, as former Leinster wing Michael Keating scored 11 tries on the wing and ex-Ulster openside Ali Birch excelled around the pitch.

Back row Willie Ryan, prop Adam Macklin and out-half James McKinney – who is “back for a second spell” at the club – swell the number of Irish players on the Titans’ books this season.

“I think the way myself, Birchy and Keats performed last season… I suppose what Lee saw day in, day out and the professional attitude we brought to training probably gave him a lot of confidence in going after more Irish players.
He would have come to me and put a lot of players to me and asked about them; Willie was one of those players. He’s got a lot of faith in the Irish system and the players coming over.”

Blackett will be hoping his six Irishmen will power the club into another push for promotion, having been beaten by Bristol in last season’s semi-finals. Similarly, Scanlon has his sights firmly set on playing at a higher level, however that comes about.

“I was quite disappointed I didn’t get picked up by a bigger team last year, but I still have a bit of development to do. It’s another step up to Premiership or Pro12 standard. Another year of development and being a bit of a leader for the team will bring me on loads from an experience point of view.

“It’s about putting yourself in a good position week in, week out. Ideally, hopefully, I’d get picked up by a bigger club or get promoted with Rotherham. My ambition is to play in the Pro12, Premiership or Top 14, whichever one fits at the time.”

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