Scannell and Tracy both looking to push on with international ambitions

Munster and Leinster hookers in line for St Stephen’s Day meeting at Thomond Park

A Christmas Carol about two hookers. Niall Scannell and James Tracy have their Ireland caps. Nine of Scannell's 20 have come in the starting jersey while Tracy has a solitary run-on against Japan in 2017.

Both have respectable careers behind them and quite possibly ahead of them. If media access is a reliable judge, the pair would have come into direct conflict at Thomond Park on Saturday night. However, with news that the match has been postponed, they will have to wait to do so whenever it is rescheduled.

This matters for a number of reasons. Scannell wants to prove his recovery from a neck injury and begin the long climb back to the reserve status he attained behind Ireland captain Rory Best at the 2019 World Cup.

It seems doable even if Rhys Marshall and Kevin O'Byrne have looked the part as Munster hookers this season.

“I was in an awful lot of pain,” said Scannell on Tuesday afternoon of the neck injury sustained at training in October. “Looking back it was obviously complete naivety on my part, but I was asking in the physio room about half an hour after would I be able to play against Scarlets at the weekend and would it settle and stuff.

“And the doc, obviously he didn’t know at the time and he was looking at me, but I kind of knew it wasn’t going to be a good prognosis from what he was saying.

“I was really lucky that I got to the consultant here in Limerick about three days after that and that I was under the knife within a week, which was huge because we’ve seen these things linger in players before so we know timing was of the essence.

“I was probably lucky that way and it seems to have all gone really well, and getting back in the scrums for the last few weeks now has been the kind of big test for it. We’re just on the back of our scrum session this morning and it’s feeling good.

“And I can’t really complain, how the rehab’s gone. It’s just nerve damage, I’ve never suffered it before and it is a bit different, it’s kind of relentless and the pain pre-operation was quite bad. I’m just lucky to have it all behind me now.”

Rehabilitation in pandemic times must prove very lonely.

“Covid does make it that bit harder,” admitted Scannell. “You can’t socialise, you can’t meet up, we could be finished some mornings quite early and you can’t go for a coffee or breakfast together, things like that.

“Yeah, we’d have good craic in the gym and all that and it was handy having [Dave Kilcoyne] there, but Covid did make it a bit more challenging this time around. And I just hope for RG [Snyman] and Joey [Carbery’s] sake that this all will subside a bit in the new year and we can get more back to normal. But spirits are definitely high in there, mentally it wasn’t a bad place to be at all, it was just the physical slog that was the tough part.”

Tracy’s career is at a trickier moment. Ronán Kelleher powered past all comers at Leinster to fall just short of establishing himself as the Ireland hooker in 2020 (a shambolic Ireland lineout has kept the door open for Rob Herring).

“Unfortunately, whether you’re a kicker or a hooker, it stops with you,” said the 29-year-old Kildare man. “It’s part of the gig. It’s obviously not great when it feels like it’s not your fault but such is life.”

At this moment Tracy is presumably more concerned about the 6' 3", 117kg, 22-year-old Dan Sheehan than Kelleher or Seán Cronin.

Expecting an empty Thomond Park to be “eerie,” Tracy leaves nobody in any doubt about what to expect.

“Everyone would love to have supporters back. It’s not the same without them. Even at an underage match you have parents screaming at you from the sidelines but on the field, regardless of the atmosphere created by the supporters, it’s still 15 lads trying to kill each other. That part doesn’t change.”

God bless the hookers, every one of them.

Read More

Most Read