'I'm happy with games I'm getting, but I need to push on too'
Regular taste of first-team action has young No 2 keen to strive for international recognition
Although he has made massive strides so far in 2015-'16, Niall Scannell is determined not to slow his progress down as he attempts to secure further match-day rugby.
Last season the 23-year-old found himself on the outside looking in more often than he would like, but a string of noteworthy outings have seen him begin to fulfil the potential that he had shown when he first burst into the squad in recent months.
Battling for the starting No 2 jersey, Scannell is in a mix that includes Kevin O'Byrne and Mike Sherry, with the rehabbing Duncan Casey due to return later this season to add more experienced competition to the mix.
The Douglas native has taken stock of where he stands in his third season involved in the Munster senior set-up, and wants to add new skills to his game as he attempts to make himself indispensable in the match-day 23.
With 16 first-team appearances already this term, compared to just five starts off the bench in 2014-'15, Scannell has become far more than just a bit-part player.
He now focuses on his own game looking for any minor tweaks that he can make to create a more rounded platform. And from there he wants to learn what makes other professionals tick - looking at those who have done it before him - to make him such an asset to boss Anthony Foley.
Scannell also thrives on the advice given to him by Foley, and scrum coach Jerry Flannery. In the long-term he longs to wear the Irish jersey, but knows he won't get there without performing for his province, and with Sherry already having reached that milestone, he is eager to follow suit.
"I am happy with the games I am getting. If someone told me last year that I would be getting this amount I would have taken their hand off for it. I am very happy with it, but I am not satisfied either. I need to push on," says Scannell.
"There is good competition at the minute with myself, Mike and Kevin. You have Duncan Casey to come back from injury as well, so it's very competitive. I'm happy with the amount of game-time I am getting but I need to get a few more starts and see where that takes me.
"I'm in the 23 most weeks which is brilliant, given that last year I found myself outside the squad a lot of weeks. But I'm not a first-team regular yet. Mike is still holding that position down.
"It's obviously competitive between the two of us. I just need to keep pushing on and not be satisfied with where I'm at.
"Mike has got an international cap. He is in pole position at the moment. He does so many things well, around the park, and his set-piece is solid. It sets the standards for us.
"It's good to see what he's doing and to try and add a few bits from his game to my own game. He would be quite dynamic around the pitch. It's good to learn a few things from what others do and see what might be a bit different to my own style."
Scannell knows where he is going, and what is needed to propel his game on that extra level. For a hooker, accurate throwing is essential. But in the modern game scrummaging has taken on renewed importance, and the Dolphin clubman has looked to move with the times. "I've tightened up a lot around the scrum. Jerry Flannery has been a massive influence for me there, where I can use my size and physicality to impact that area.
"I have had to work at my throwing as well, and make sure that when I get on the pitch, Axel can be sure my set-piece will be rock-solid.
"That is the biggest difference. As a team, we see the weeks our set-piece doesn't go well are the weeks we struggle. I need to make sure I can push on in that area, and that they can trust in me. That has been the biggest change of mindset for me in the last year. It seems to be paying dividends.
"At the moment we're trying to stay square at scrum-time, and make sure we are getting quality ball for our backs. We tend to try and keep it solid and have as little resets to keep it as clean as we can so we can get the ball out.
"We are very solid in our own set-piece on our own ball. On opposition ball you have a bit more of a luxury to take a gamble and push in on them, and try to put them under pressure. That has been our main focus for the season."
This season has not only been a breakthrough one for Niall. His brother Rory has also become a regular in the Munster squad. The 22-year-old has racked up 19 appearances for the senior side and Niall is delighted by his progression.
"It's great to see Rory kicking on as well. We've had a few games together. People keep asking us about our games together, but I laugh because we have played GAA together down in Douglas since we were about ten. It's nothing different for us, we have played a number of seasons in Dolphin together too.
"It's great to see him doing well, he seems to be staying in as the first-choice 12 at the moment. Hopefully he can kick on and get himself into some of those Irish training squads and improve even more from there.
"He seems to be doing well, and it's great to see that. He's a very competitive guy, and he's not happy if he's not picked. There's murder around the house if he's not playing. It's good for all of us to see him on the pitch, it's a lot easier at home."