Scannell hooked on giving all to Munster
'Ireland's Call' in back of Cork man's mind as Champions Cup tests beckon for Reds
Niall Scannell could have been forgiven for acclaiming Munster's gritty Galway win last weekend through slightly clenched teeth.
Currently Munster's first-choice hooker, Scannell has thrived upon the enforced absence of injured rivals Mike Sherry and Duncan Casey, seizing an opportunity provided by the misfortune of his rivals.
But last weekend, Scannell was rested for the trip west and had to watch as Kiwi Rhys Marshall put in a barnstorming display, not only in the set-piece, but making a crucial defensive tackle as well as scoring the decisive try.
"You are always a little bit nervous with the talent we have around here at hooker to be honest," muses the Cork man.
"Rhys played very well at the weekend, particularly from a lineout point of view. They were horrendous conditions and he performed very well and his tackle count was through the roof too.
"I wasn't surprised by that at all to be honest, he is a quality player. There are so many of them in my position, that is always your thought process when there is someone else starting. You have to keep your eye in there, as you might not be back in the team."
With Rassie Erasmus poised to overhaul his squad this summer to develop even more depth, he knows that this week injury will force him to make at least one change while three successive European games provides a necessary exercise in careful rotation.
"That has always been our philosophy here at Munster but, in saying that, I would not think the team for Europe is a given either," Scannell says.
"The competition throughout the squad is adding to the depth we have at the moment. I remember when I was relishing chances around Six Nations for the last few years, where you get an opportunity to shine.
"I have been there and I think that is what our system produces, lads coming out of the academy and pushing on. That has kind of always been our philosophy behind it.
"There is so much competition for places, it is probably more about your last performance more than anything.
"There is always an edge. Even when you start to see the European gear we wear rocking up on a Monday, you know it is European week and you know you have to push that standard.
"I don't think we have ever been a club that has allowed complacency to creep in, so I cannot see it being an issue this week.
"I have not seen a Racing Metro team sheet this season which could be described in any way as 'weak' so we will be pretty on the ball when it comes to that."
Thankfully, Scannell's performances have been worthy of his place in the side although he admits that his game is developing, as it must, all the time.
"I am trying to bring the more physical aspects to it, especially around the set-piece. I am trying to be consistent around scrum and lineout. At the end of the day they are just my fundamentals.
"I am trying to get over the ball a bit more at breakdown time. I think Jacques Nienaber is making a huge difference to my defence game.
"He is encouraging me to get off the line and show that physicality a bit whereas previously I think I might have tried to do too much.
"Where you are nearly keeping your eye on two or three guys and thinking, 'Who is running this line, who is running that line', so he is encouraging me to get off the line and when you see someone in front of you, hit him.
"And if the guy outside you is after missing someone, hit him too and I think when you make it that simple it allows me to be physical.
"That is the main attribute to my game at the moment, just my size and my physicality. The more I can display that, hopefully the better I will perform."
Scrum coach Jerry Flannery is also bringing his former dart-throwing prowess to bear.
"He was - as he likes to remind us - the best thrower in the world at a lot of points, so he can still throw them as well! He is obviously hugely helpful for us.
"And scrum-wise, I try and work as closely as I can with him because I feel that is an area of my game I can really make a difference and bring a huge amount to the team."
He can't help but have an Ireland call-up in his thoughts; elder brother Rory, a Munster centre, has already been in camp and the pair have a sneaky fiver bet running on who might be the first to line up for 'Ireland's Call'.
"It has always been in the back of my mind obviously, I want to play for Ireland. That is always my goal.
"But at the moment I am just trying to cement the place here. I haven't exactly been first choice here for long enough yet to really start putting my hand up. But at the same time it is always in the back of my mind.
"All I can really do is perform. These games, like this weekend, are the big ones where you can put your hand up, against international-standard players and show you can perform.
"That is why you have to grab the Champions Cup game opportunities, the inter-pros.
"If I can keep doing that, hopefully it is somewhere in the future. Unfortunately, I don't know when that is going to be.
"It is a dream at the moment and something I would love to do, but at the moment it is just performance-based week on week really.
"Rory is probably leading by a nose alright at the moment. No, it is obviously brilliant to see Rory up there.
"People were asking me would I be a bit peeved if he is up there and I am not, but like he is in a totally different position and it is great to see him up there and if he gets a cap in the near future that would be a brilliant thing to see.
"There will be a fiver alright, but at the moment I would be nearly trying to welch on that, because he seems to be a step ahead of me!
"But it is what it is really at the moment. He is doing very well in his position and I would love to be able to do the same and hopefully in the near future I get a few chances to go up to the camp and just show what I can do as well."