Niall Scannell relishing shot at Pro12 glory against Scarlets
We have a chance to go and do something great in final, says Munster hooker
Niall Scannell in action against Ospreys in the Pro12 semi-final at Thomond Park last Saturday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Thoughtful and articulate, Munster’s 25-year-old hooker Niall Scannell provides more colourful content than is customary, where players err on the side of the scrupulously inoffensive in pre-match musings.
It’s not as if he’s calling out the Scarlets ahead of Saturday’s Guinness Pro12 final at the Aviva stadium (6.15pm), but he doesn’t feel obliged to publicly tug the forelock. He contends that Munster are there on merit and it’s not arrogant to accept that they deserve to be based on performances.
“I think sometimes it can be an Irish thing that we find it hard to say, ‘Yes, we deserve to be in this final.’ We have been consistent all season. We didn’t fluke it, we finished top of the table and I think we need to keep telling ourselves that.
“Sometimes we can be too critical of ourselves and maybe overly humble or self-deprecating. We just have to say, this is exciting, we have worked hard to be here and give ourselves every chance to get a win on Saturday.
“When you start to get those nerves this [the final] is where we wanted to be and we have worked hard for that. We can be positive about that. I think that is something I will look back on this week.”
He also clarifies the difference between this time last year when Munster were battling to qualify to play European rugby and any anxiety the players might feel with the prospect of missing out on silverware should the unthinkable happen and they lose a Pro12 final on Saturday for the second time in three years. “Last year was real pressure where you have to win just to get into Europe. We have to get a big performance out of ourselves but it’s a different pressure. Last year was really, really tough going into those games I had in knots in my stomach with nerves. We didn’t want to be there but we were there and I think it definitely gave us a bit of experience in that area.”
He argues that this week the overwhelming feeling has been one of excitement. “We have a chance to go and do something great on Saturday.”
In the past Munster teams looked to nurse a few grievances, real or imagined, to add a dollop of umbrage to whatever motivation they harboured on a given day.
Scannell admitted: “There is no animosity between the teams or anything like that, but we used to always say to ourselves, we need to work on our breakdown in the week leading into the Scarlets.
“They have always been very good at the breakdown and it is very hard to get clean ball off of them. They have not changed and that is our motivation against them, to be hugely physical. That is more than true on Saturday.
“Just watching them on Friday night, you have players like John Barclay, James Davies, Tadhg Beirne and Aaron Shingler [making] massive turnovers in the game and I think it will be the very same this weekend.”
On a personal level, the Corkman has enjoyed an auspicious season beyond the boundaries of his province. He produced an assured performance when winning his first Ireland cap as a late call-up for Rory Best who took ill on the morning of the game against Italy; Scannell had four caps by the end of the Six Nations.
This summer he’ll start as Ireland’s first-choice hooker in the absence of Best for the tour to America and Japan. It’ll be managing a different expectation. “I was listening to an interview with Paddy Jackson last week. When he was going to South Africa [last summer with Ireland], he was saying, ‘You would keep telling yourself you are good enough and you have the ability’, but you really have to go in there and do it to prove it to yourself more than anything.
“That was my focus against Italy. Keep things basic and do what I do well. There is probably some reassurance there that I did it, but for me it is time to push on at that level. Joe’s [Schmidt] coaching style is massively helpful in that too. He always says, ‘You are what you repeatedly do’, so I take that on board, do the little things well in training.
“If you do that, you will start to have an impact at this level. If you trust the process, trust the coaches here at Munster and up with Ireland, you can make an impact and hopefully get some more caps this summer.”
First though there is a final to be won.