Scannell eyeing starting berth as Munster ready to Castres off for European mission
The last time Munster played Castres in France, Rory Scannell's immediate rugby ambitions centred on winning the schools Senior Cup.
The year was 2011 and for the second week running, Ronan O'Gara had gotten Munster out of jail with a late drop goal - this time in Toulouse where his side scraped past Castres.
Conor Murray and captain Peter O'Mahony are Munster's only surviving members of that match-day squad as they get set to kick off their Champions Cup campaign in Castres on Sunday.
For Scannell, memories of that unforgettable win are hazy; after all, he was still in PBC, dreaming of pulling on the red jersey one day.
"I was actually watching that one at home," the 23-year old recalls.
"I think I was in fifth or sixth year. Obviously they wouldn't be as familiar to a lot of the squad over the last few years but a couple of the - they probably won't like me saying this - the older guys will remember going there.
"It's going to be a massive challenge. Look, some of the guys played there the last time so they will give us the heads up of what's lying ahead on Sunday."
Scannell was the biggest victim of Rassie Erasmus' experimental backline in the defeat to Leinster last weekend but he is set to return to the starting XV for Sunday's trip.
The Cork native has emerged as one of Munster's most consistent performers so to be on the bench for the first big game of the season and in front of the Ireland coaches was a real kick in the teeth.
Having won his first Ireland cap on the summer tour against USA, Scannell will have his sights sets on adding to his tally that now stands at three, but to do so, he knows he needs to be starting in the pivotal games.
"Obviously I'd have liked to have gotten a bit more game-time, but Rassie said we were going to try a few things going into Europe," he explained.
"It was great to get the experience of going on the summer tour. I got to play in all three games which was great. I'm looking to continue that form this season and hopefully over the next few weeks put my hand up for the squad going into the autumn internationals.
"I think there is a few things I want to keep tipping away at myself. Just the kicking side of things is a good thing to have as a centre. Keep tipping away at that.
"Passing is another thing that I would see myself just having to keep working on. It's going well at the moment anyway."
With Jaco Taute set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, Munster's first-choice midfield partnership will almost certainly be Scannell and Chris Farrell.
The pair might not have had a huge amount of time playing together since Farrell joined from Grenoble but they know each other from their younger days, as Scannell recalled.
"For a big guy he has great distribution skills as well. I think I actually played with Chris first at U-18 Schools level as a 10-12 combo, so I am really enjoying playing with him again.
"He has made a good impact so far this season and I think he is going to be crucial to us as a squad going forward over the next few weeks.
"He is nearly like having another forward on the pitch, but as you saw at the weekend he is well able to rip a pass 20-25 metres as well.
"He has great offloading ability too, so I think having that physicality in the centre kinda frees me up to play the type of game I like to play as well. I don't mind the physical things myself, but I like the distribution side of things as a centre as well.
"It was actually quite a good advantage going into games because people didn't expect it. They are expecting he will run straight over you and he will be on the gain-line throwing a flat ripped pass to the winger, so it is great to have that for a 13."
Given that he spent three years in France, Farrell arguably knows Castres as well as anyone in the Munster squad so it will come as no surprise to learn that they have been tapping into his inside knowledge this week.
"He has obviously played Castres a number of times unlike a lot of our squad at the moment, so he was just saying they are going to be physical up front, they like to maul the ball a lot," Scannell added.
"They have a big heavy pack, so I'm guessing we are trying to get our ball to the backs as much as possible and try and run them around a bit."
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