'Last man standing' Scannell out to state Irish case
When the Munster squad reconvened at their High Performance Centre in the University of Limerick earlier this week, the only fit and available senior player who regularly plays in midfield was Rory Scannell.
Johann van Graan was expecting Sam Arnold to receive some kind of ban for his red card against Ulster, and when it duly arrived on Wednesday evening, he joined the long list of unavailable centres.
Keith Earls slotted in at 13 in Belfast, for what was his first midfield appearance of the season, but few would argue that his best position nowadays is on the wing.
Chris Farrell hasn't played since making such a good impression when winning his second international cap in Ireland's win over Argentina in November, but he has since returned to training later in the week, to help ease Van Graan's midfield headache.
Munster were stretched enough as it is, and Arnold picking up a three-week ban was the last thing they needed but in Scannell they at least have one of their most consistent performers again this season.
"Unfortunately, I am the last man standing at the minute," Scannell said.
"I think Chris Farrell is on the way back this week and hopefully he is in the mix. It is great to see Earlsy back in the centre at the weekend too so I am sure we'll manage.
"Unfortunately the injuries are part and parcel of it. Having three internationals to play with at 13 is not bad either.
"I think we need a bit of consistency there and the quicker we get everyone back the better."
Having made his debut on last summer's tour, Scannell was unfortunate to miss out in November but his performances in the period since will have left Joe Schmidt with plenty to think about ahead of the Six Nations.
Bundee Aki came out on top in his duel with Garry Ringrose on New Year's Day and if the newly-qualified Irish centre is picked for tomorrow evening's derby at Thomond Park, Scannell will be looking to get one over on Connacht's main man.
"Obviously I will be looking to put in a good performance in an interpro derby," the 24-year-old maintained.
"The Irish squad will be announced in a few weeks and I'll be doing my best to put my hand up.
"I'll just be concentrating on my own performance and doing my best to make sure I add to the team's performance.
"You know that Joe Schmidt and the other coaches are looking at mainly the European games and the interpro derbies.
"They are looking at certain lads going up against each other and it would be in the back of your mind, but for the moment, we are just concentrating on Munster.
"This is an important time for the club. That is at the forefront for us at the minute, but I am sure some players might have it (individual battles) at the front of their minds alright."
Munster missed Scannell's calming influence in the defeat to Ulster. It may have gone unnoticed by some, but the Cork native was instrumental in mounting the second-half comeback against Leinster on St Stephen's Day that ultimately fell short.
Scannell has grown into a real leader for Munster and that is reflected in his willingness to take responsibility on himself.
"We were slow out of the blocks against Leinster and you know, if you give a team of that quality a lead like that you are going to struggle," he reflected. "I think we played some good rugby in the second half. I think the score in the second half was 19-7, but at that stage, it was too late.
"It was the other way around against Ulster. We will be looking to get some balance there and put in an 80-minute performance rather than a 40-minute performance. We just need to put in a good performance. I am sure if we do that the result will hopefully go the way we want and that will help to build confidence going into the next two weekends in a different competition.
"I think we are second in our conference and top of our European Pool, so I don't think we will look at it too negatively. We are in a good place and we need to keep the place positive."
'Discipline' has been the key word both in and outside of the Munster camp this week and Scannell accepts that it must be better at home tomorrow if Munster are to win their first interpro derby of the season.
"We have addressed that this morning," he added.
"When you are giving away double-digit penalties, especially away from home in big games, with excellent goal kickers, you are going to struggle.
"Not every decision is going to be right, but I do think we need to cut out the ones that we can control ourselves and not bring the referees into it."
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