Wednesday 18 September 2019

Scannell aiming to edge battle of the Irish hookers

Niall Scannell. Photo:
Niall Scannell. Photo:
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Very few players will admit it publicly but there is far more than just provincial pride at stake in this weekend's interpros.

While getting one over on your collective rivals is naturally satisfying in itself, the individual battles that will take place in Belfast and Dublin over the next couple of days will go some way to shaping Joe Schmidt's thinking ahead of the November internationals.

Niall Scannell was one of Munster's leading lights last season and stepped into the breach for his international debut at the final hour when Rory Best was a late withdrawal in Rome.

The Ireland skipper hopes to be back in time for the first of next month's three Tests, while the fit-again Seán Cronin will also come into the mix. And that's not to mention James Tracy who will also be aiming to impress at the Aviva on Saturday.

All told, there is plenty to play for, for all three hookers and getting the edge over their opposite number could sway a tight selection call in their favour.

Read more: Ulster must step up and play for the shirt, insists McCall

"Personally, I don't look at it in blocks because you don't know when you are going to be playing," Scannell insists.

"If you get a nod you're in the squad for next week you're 100pc focused so that's all I'd be concentrating on next week.

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"Going into it, it's certainly going to be a physical game. It's going to be a step up not just because it's an interpro game because they're a quality team and if they're not at that level you won't beat them so that's more where the step up comes from than from anywhere else.

"We know our discipline has to be spot on and coming into games like this week that could be the deciding factor."

Scannell also has his hands full closer to home as the fit-again Mike Sherry and Duncan Casey are piling the pressure on the Cork native as well as Rhys Marshall, who has been a good signing for Munster.

"Any club would be delighted to have that amount of quality hookers fit," Scannell says. "It is massive competition for all of us. At the end of the day, if we want to go on to win silverware, we need that depth across positions.

"You have to embrace the competition to try and get better. That is the way I'm looking at it at the moment.

"If you are at a good club that is competitive you are going to have that across a number of positions. It might be a worse scenario if you had no competition in your position."

Munster's Lions trio returned in the win over Cardiff Blues last week and with Keith Earls due to be back in the fold on Saturday, there has been an added edge in training in recent weeks and not just because Leinster lie in wait.

Read more: 'We don't like them and they don't like us. It'll be physical'

"When you look at the clientele they are three massive leaders for us," Scannell adds.

"I'd hope that it is a boost for their own confidence but the way the three of them lead the team it wouldn't be hard to see a massive difference.

"Pete's (O'Mahony) always had that calibre of leader in him. Conor (Murray) drives a lot of our game and CJ (Stander) gets over the gain-line week in, week out. And they pretty much did that (last week) so it seems to be business as usual.

"It was brilliant for us - to have three Lions in a club is absolutely outstanding and I'd hope it gave them a confidence boost to be back in that environment too."



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