I went from nowhere to playing the Scarlets in a fortnight - Scannell
Hooker reveals former schoolmates Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony inspired stellar rise
While some of the Munster squad were trying to force their way into Joe Schmidt's Ireland plans last week, for Niall Scannell and the rest of Rob Penney's players there was a welcome week off to recuperate.
And while a few of the squad might have enjoyed themselves, Scannell was loath to do too much winding down with the dreaded fitness test awaiting him when he returned on Tuesday.
It may be only three minutes long, but Scannell couldn't get it out of his head for the week.
“We had that fitness test on Tuesday. We do three 60-second shuttles. It is all-out for 60 seconds and you have to do that three times and you get a score out of 900 for your efforts,” says the Douglas-born hooker.
“I'd be more a fan of the old bleep test where it's a steady build-up, but this is a tough three minutes. There is no building up to it, it's just straight into it, you really have to psych yourself up for it. The last time we did it was about eight or nine weeks ago and it was pre-season before that, so it's not one we look forward to.”
But before the most recent break, Scannell made huge progress through the Munster ranks at blistering speed.
Munster's injury crisis in the No 2 shirt meant the former Irish U-20 captain made his first senior appearance the week before Christmas and started for the first time against Connacht the following week. The rapid ascent stunned him.
“Coming into the senior set-up this year I knew that Mike Sherry and Damien Varley were well set in there. In reality the B&I Cup was going to be my target,” says the 21-year-old.
“Myself and Duncan (Casey) were fighting for the third spot, but before I knew it I was thrown into the action. I went from nowhere near the team to playing 50 minutes against the Scarlets in less than a fortnight.
“To get so much game-time over that couple of weeks was great. The first cap is there now and I can keep working away to work my way up the pecking order, but realistically, the B&I Cup is going to be huge for me for the rest of the season.
“We have been paired with Leinster ‘A’ in the quarter-finals so that's a major game to work towards. The time with the seniors is brilliant, but I really have to push on with the ‘A’ team now.
“We've had a few right good battles with Leinster at B&I level over the years and you'd know most of the guys too so it's good to have that to build towards. It'll be a huge game.”
As the oldest of three bothers, Niall was delighted to see Rory, an Ireland U-20 centre, follow him into the Munster Academy this year. The youngest of the three, Billy – another hooker – is forging a name for himself in the Presentation Brothers Junior Cup team.
Niall thinks the grounding in the game that he received in Pres is the big reason that he has progressed so far, so soon. Watching the dedication of schoolmates Peter O'Mahony and Simon Zebo also pushed him down the right track.
“I played Senior Cup both years in school, but it was in fourth year that I started taking it a bit more seriously. I got called up to the Senior Cup team and Peter and Simon were on it,” he says.
“Along with Brendan O'Hara they were really pushing hard to get into the Munster Academy and the work they were doing was a real eye-opener.
“They were a year or two older than me, but when I saw that I decided to take my own game a bit more seriously. Once you get on to that pathway it's a bit easier then to push on to things like the Irish U-20s.
“There was a group of them that were super players, but Peter was the captain then too. He was always a step above everyone in terms of his workrate. Not much has changed really since I've known him.
“He knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to play for Munster. I never knew guys at that age could be so clear-minded about their wish to play rugby professionally, but they were really honed into getting a career for themselves out of the game.
“It gave me the kick up the a**e I needed, I knew then the next two years were going to be huge for me if I wanted to do it.”
After earning a development contract at Munster last year, Scannell was thrilled to be able to return to his alma mater as coach to pass on some of the tricks of the trade. It provided a reminder of the level of discipline needed in the schools game.
“It's only now that I can see it, looking at those lads now, you just realise what dedication they give to the game,” he says.
“They do two weights sessions a week before school at 7.0, two mornings of the week they are in working on their line-outs, and on top of that there are three days training a week after school.
“You only realise the work that goes into it when you take a step a way from it all. You don't question it at the time, but with study and everything, they are probably putting in 14-hour days. At that level you are already in a semi-professional mindset. It's full-on.
“In hindsight, it prepared me really well for the Munster Academy set-up. I went into the sub-academy after school and played a bit with the |U-20s. I was used to that side of things, the discipline, the punctuality, getting up early.
“It was more when I got into the academy the next year that I set my sights on the Irish U-20s. That's when I ramped it up a gear. In the academy there is no team as such, it's mostly gym work and skills work, so you really have to set your own standards and targets.
“It has gotten me this far, but I really have to press on again now to take the next step if I want to be a regular.”