Sunday 26 March 2017

Munster's hooker crisis may open door for Scannell

Niall Scannell has long been groomed as a starter
Niall Scannell has long been groomed as a starter
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The sight of Jack O'Donoghue finishing as Munster's hooker in last Saturday's bonus-point win over Treviso told you everything you needed to know about the problems that Anthony Foley faces ahead of an emotional trip to Paris.

Mike Sherry's return to the European stage was prematurely ended after he was forced off with a knee injury but for the 28 minutes that he was on the pitch, his performance served as a reminder of what Munster have been missing during the two years that he has spent out.

To his credit, Duncan Casey has performed well when called upon but he too had to leave the pitch before the full-time whistle with a pectoral problem.

Foley's most pressing concern must surely be Sherry though and in particular the rate at which his body is breaking down.

Since November 2013, the 27-year-old has undergone three shoulder surgeries as well as one on a cruciate ligament and when he dropped to the Thomond Park turf clutching his knee, it was concerning.

Sherry has already admitted that his nightmare injury spell forced him to contemplate retirement and the hope now is that his latest setback won't result in anything as serious.

In times gone by, Munster have been able to call on hookers with the experience of Keith Wood, Frankie Sheehan, Jerry Flannery and, more recently, Damien Varley but they are being pushed to the very limit in what is still an early stage of the season.

Of the four current Munster hookers, only Sherry has been capped by Ireland and even at that the Limerick native has lined out just once for his country.

It's difficult not to think that had Sherry remained fit over the last couple of years, he would most certainly have added to that tally.

Having impressed with Shannon in the Ulster Bank League, Casey admirably made the step-up to the senior ranks but he was unlikely to have been viewed as the first-choice hooker going forward.

Niall Scannell on the other hand is someone who has come through the Munster system and has long been groomed as a starter.

The 23-year-old was a stand-out at schools level when he captained PBC to the Senior Cup in 2010 before he went on to skipper Ireland at the 2012 U-20 World Cup.

His younger brother, Rory, 21, has had a more seamless transition to the senior ranks and made his European debut off the bench against Treviso but injury has limited Scannell to making just 10 appearances since his debut in 2013.

Scannell captained Munster 'A' in the British and Irish Cup last Friday but he can probably expect to be make the trip to Paris to play Stade Francais on Sunday.

Former Connacht academy player Kevin O'Byrne is the fourth hooker on Munster's books and he will also be looking to force his way into the reckoning.

An update on the fitness of Sherry and Casey will be provided by Munster this afternoon but it's certainly a problem that Foley could do without.

Emergency

That O'Donoghue filled in as an emergency hooker in what was an uncontested scrum was as much borne out of necessity as it was out of the talented 21-year-old's versatility.

With CJ Stander seemingly immoveable from the No 8 jersey, O'Donoghue has had to deviate from the position where he has earned the kind of reputation that has him destined for the international stage.

O'Donoghue has found himself playing at openside flanker in the absence of Tommy O'Donnell and although it would seem very unlikely that he will end up there long-term, Foley insisted that it is good for his development.

"I was fortunate enough to play with (Eddie) Halvey and (Alan) Quinlan and (Denis) Leamy and they all dabbled at seven and across the back-row as they were coming through as young men," he said.

"They were more fluid in what they were doing. For a time you have to look to give the opportunity where it is.

"At the moment the opportunity for Jack is at seven. He is doing a good job there for us and he is growing and learning.

"There is no reason in the future that he can't play six or eight."

Having that sort of a selection headache is certainly something that Foley will welcome but as for his hooker crisis, a few sleepless nights perhaps lie ahead.

Irish Independent

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