Munster's Rory Scannell confident of Ireland call up
It was at the end of Rory Scannell's breakthrough season last year that he first spoke with Joe Schmidt.
As brief as the conversation was, it was enough for Scannell to know that he was on the Kiwi's radar, which is what forced him to reassess his goals for the coming season.
Having made the number 12 jersey his own at Munster, it was time to aim higher. It was no surprise then when his impressive, consistent form was rewarded with a call-up to the Ireland squad for the final November Test against Australia.
Scannell spent the week in Carton House under the watchful eye of Schmidt and although he didn't make the match-day squad, he was at the Aviva Stadium as the 24th man.
The 23-year old went through the warm-up with the rest of the squad and as gutting as it must have been not to be able to tog out for the game itself, there is no doubt that he will be back there wearing the green jersey at some point in the near future.
Jared Payne's injury has opened up a spot in midfield which Garry Ringrose is almost certainly going to fill but Scannell (right) has justifiable claims to feel as if he isn't too far away.
"That was another great experience, getting in to train with top-class internationals and just try my best to keep knocking on that door," he recalled this week.
"Hopefully, I will get an opportunity soon. It was a great experience.
"I was at home watching the New Zealand game the week before and I saw Robbie (Henshaw) went down with an injury and luckily for me that led to my opportunity to get into camp.
"I didn't think I was going to be near the match-day squad, but it was a great experience to be carried, warm up with the team, get a feel for what it is like. It has pushed me on a bit now to try and get into that squad."
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Further conversations with Schmidt have of course taken place since the brief chat last season but the message is largely the same; 'Keep doing what you are doing.'
"I asked him was there things I needed to work on," Scannell explained.
"I had a chat with him during the week of the Australia game. I asked him, 'What areas are you looking for me to improve on?' and he said just keep doing what I am doing; the catch pass, the kicking. All those things in my game if I just keep improving them.
"You look at the guys who have been playing in the centre for Ireland over the last year or two, they have been doing extremely well so I just have to probably outperform them week in, week out. Then hopefully I'll be given a shot."
Scannell is likely to be included in Ireland's Six Nations squad which will be announced in the coming weeks but it is the summer tour to Japan that will provide him with the biggest opportunity to impress.
The same can be said for his older brother Niall, who is also enjoying an outstanding season with Munster.
While the younger Scannell has unquestionably benefited from his time with Ireland, closer to home, the daily grind of training and playing alongside international centres like Francis Saili and Jaco Taute has been priceless in his development.
"Obviously they are both very experienced players and when I came into the team last year, I hadn't a huge number of caps under my belt," the Cork native said.
"Frankie (Saili) was a great help to me, helping me improve and Jaco has been the exact same this year. He is a Springbok and has been around the block with the Stormers. For me, personally, I think I have developed quite well playing alongside both of them. It is great having them both back fit."
Playing in the knockout stages of Europe will further Scannell's claims of forcing himself into Schmidt's plans and Munster can take a giant step towards ensuring that in their penultimate pool game in Glasgow on Saturday.
"When I was growing up it was great seeing it (quarter-final) but I haven't experienced it yet myself since I've been involved so we're really looking to get back into that stage of the competition," he added.
"At the moment we are in a good place in the European Cup, three points ahead of Glasgow and top of the Pro12 and that's where we want to be at the business end of the season - in those knockout games."
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