Sunday 30 April 2017

Determined to follow big brother to Ireland honours

The Big Interview: Daragh Small

Rory Scannell has played 17 times for Munster this season. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory Scannell has played 17 times for Munster this season. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

When Munster were camped deep in Cardiff Blues territory late on in their game at the Arms Park last Saturday evening, they always looked destined to claim their 14th Pro12 win of the season.

It should never be taken for granted, but despite a blip the previous week, when they lost and couldn't even salvage a losing bonus point at home to Scarlets, Munster have rarely failed to deliver in the league this term.

Six phases into their latest drive up-field, Munster couldn't find a way through a mean Cardiff defence, only for Rory Scannell to step back into the pocket and strike a drop-goal between the posts from outside the 22.

It wasn't the most sweetly struck effort with his left boot, but Scannell's kick certainly turned the game in Munster's favour.

They hadn't led up until the 76th minute when he landed the drop-goal, just as he did in Kingspan Stadium earlier in the season, when he also popped one over, this time in the 75th minute.

But what made it all the more intriguing in Round 17 was that Scannell had to play a full hour of the game at out-half after Ian Keatley went off injured, but he still stepped up to the plate admirably.

"It's been a good season. I have got a lot of game-time under my belt and stayed injury-free for the most part. I am relatively happy personally, and the team has gone well which is the main thing for us," says Scannell (23).

"I have got a lot of starts which has been great for me. It's great to have most of the centres back fit. We are competing hard with each other, Jaco Taute, Francis Saili. . . Dan Goggin has been playing well this season too.

"It pushes us on to perform when we are given a chance to start each game."

Scannell has played 17 times this season and scored two tries - he has amassed 46 Munster caps in three seasons as part of the senior ranks - but his brother has stolen even more headlines this season.

Hooker Niall Scannell (24), also a Dolphin clubman, has turned in some stunning displays for the province this season, and his consistency led to an Irish call-up, and he featured against Italy and France in the Six Nations.

"He is flying it, he has been in the same position and got a breakthrough at the end of last season, and kicked on really well at the start of this season. He is one of the first names on the team-sheet which is good," says Rory.

"He was a bit shocked but delighted when he got called into the Irish squad. He probably didn't think his first cap would come so quick.

Slotted

"He slotted in and did really well against Italy. He looks he has been around for a number of years. He has been going well and hopefully he can keep that going for the rest of the season."

But Rory Scannell isn't that far away from wearing the green of Ireland at senior level either. He took part in the Irish training camps in the early part of the Six Nations, and has amped it up a level since then with Munster.

Unfortunately he has to compete with the likes of Leinster's Robbie Henshaw if he wants to find a way onto the side, but Scannell knows if he can keep improving, it should be only a matter of time until he gets the call.

"I have just got to keep doing what I do well," he says. "My difference from a lot of other centres is my kicking game and distribution.

"I enjoy the physical side of things as well so I just need to keep on improving while I'm playing for Munster.

"I have chatted to Joe (Schmidt) and he has told me those are things to keep going with. Hopefully my chance will come for the summer tour. . . when it comes I will grab it with both hands.

"I was up in camp for the first two or three weeks of the Six Nations. He chatted to me a few times there. He just said I have been going well this season, and the lads that have been playing have been doing well as well.

"It's up to me to be out-performing them consistently to get my foot in there. With the kicking, keep working on that, and with the goal-kicking just to have another string to the bow.

"We chat quite regularly. He knows I am working hard so hopefully he will give me a chance."

But before he can think about anything Ireland-related, he needs to lay down a marker at Munster for the rest of this season, and with big competition arriving from England and France, the No 12 jersey will be hard to lock down again next time around.

"I played with JJ Hanrahan when he was here," he says. "It's good to have more competition. No 10 would be his first position and 12 would be mine. But we can both mix and match there.

"And with Chris Farrell coming in as well there will be plenty of depth in the squad. I'm looking forward to them coming over."

And the business end of 2016-17 could be very fruitful indeed, as Munster prepare for their Champions Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at the start of next month, and some very winnable fixtures in the Pro12.

"Silverware is the aim," says Scannell. "It's been a big transition with coaching staff and stuff this year. We have a good young squad and we are aware that silverware might not come this season.

"We are building towards that. It might two or three seasons before it comes but we are going in the right direction to get a trophy."

Irish Independent

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