Tuesday 20 November 2018

Scannell set to make most of eastern promise

Niall Scannell during an Ireland Rugby Press Conference at Relo no Kaigishitsu in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Niall Scannell during an Ireland Rugby Press Conference at Relo no Kaigishitsu in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The early part of week one in the US was spent wondering where the sweltering weather had gone to. And right on cue it was back in good time for game day.

We expect more of the same in Japan: it's rainy now - in fairness it's not unseasonal - but with temperatures feeling lower than the official 18 degrees, we're braced for what's coming. Locals assure us that the Test in Hamamatsu on Saturday, which is two hours' travel time from Tokyo, will be a steamy affair.

So Niall Scannell will be picking up where he left off in the Red Bull Arena. A card-carrying member of the flak-jacket platoon, the hooker gives direction by going north-south when games have drifted east-west. His timing in that department in New Jersey was spot on. He is already preparing for more of the same.

"Yeah, I think the unspectacular tends to be part of my game anyway," he says. "Last week especially with the heat and stuff the tendency is to get a bit loose. This week will be more of the same: they look to play with a lot of width, a lot of very quick rugby. So if we can bring it down to our pace, try and put a bit of physicality on it, that would be brilliant for us."

Scannell has become the poster boy for those wondering will the queue ever thin out a bit. An injury to Seán Cronin opened the first door for him, to get into the Six Nations squad. Then Rory Best got ill the night before the Italy game, and suddenly the Corkman had become the 1,090th player to be capped for Ireland.

"It all happened very quickly but certainly I'd see myself as very inexperienced at this level, and have a lot to prove to Joe and the other coaches. Where I am is brilliant, and it's been a good season for me, but I have a long way to go in that Rory is so established and is a big leader for us. I have to use these opportunities and that's why I'm taking this tour so seriously.

"We have Dave Heffernan here as well, who got his first cap last week. That is certainly an element of it. When you have the jersey you have to keep kicking on, don't you? I've learned that at Munster. It is the same but more intense here. You have Seán Cronin, who is a hugely experienced player to come back from injury, and Rory is over representing the Lions, which is a great honour for him. They are two quality, quality players."

The opportunity is made all the more enjoyable by having his younger brother Rory along for the ride. Their dad and sister both got along to the US game, but given the circumstances - recovery, travel, review - the family bit will have to wait. The blow-out, when it comes, promises to be epic.

"He's developed parts of his game, moving from ten in his younger years," Niall says of Rory. "He has the distribution game and kicking game. People may have questioned his physicality at 12 but I think he has put an exclamation mark around that this year.

"That was the last part of his transition to 12: he has gotten bigger, and with Jaco (Taute) and Francis (Saili) we always had a physical midfield. Hopefully he can kick on at this level, but there is such quality in Luke (Marshall) and Robbie (Henshaw)."

Come Saturday expect the older brother to be setting more good example.

Irish Independent

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