His boss may be treating Saturday’s clash with Leinster as a tune-up for the Champions Cup pool games which follow, but Niall Scannell is not giving either Castres or Racing 92 a second thought when there are interprovincial foes to battle.
This weekend’s Guinness PRO14 clash at the Aviva Stadium is, in the eyes of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, the ideal preparation for European challenges ahead, the intensity provided by arch-rivals a significant step up from the five league contests already negotiated.
Hooker Scannell would not disagree with that assessment, but he is not prepared to get caught up in looking beyond the more immediate examination of Munster’s credentials against a Leinster side full of Ireland international team-mates and a couple of selection rivals.
“Personally, I don’t look at it in blocks because you don’t know when you are going to be playing,” said Scannell. “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, but because they’re a quality team and, if you’re not at that level, you won’t beat them, so that’s more where the step up comes from than from anywhere else.”
Munster took a meaningful step back from the brink last Saturday when they took care of business against Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park, their bonus-point victory over the Welsh region a welcome outcome after the previous weekend’s hammering at Glasgow Warriors.
There may have been five tries on the Munster side of the balance sheet, but it was far from a romp, as Cardiff revisited some of the defensive flaws so ruthlessly exposed by Glasgow.
Scannell, though, was satisfied that the lack of physicality at Scotstoun eight days earlier was not repeated in Limerick.
“We knew it would be a hard game [against Cardiff]. It was very physical, but we knew that would be the case. We had two very physical games against them last year and we knew we would get the same. They didn’t leave us down in that department. It was a tough game, especially up front.
“Last week, we obviously let ourselves down a bit and we knew that. That has been talked about by Rassie and other players during the week. We knew what we had to do. We had to front up physically and that was our focus and I think to a large extent we did it.
“Obviously, there are things we can tidy up on, but I think in general we brought a good physicality, which was our main focus.”
A penalty-free second half against the Blues was also a much-needed improvement on both the Glasgow defeat and a fractious opening half at Thomond Park that saw Munster trail 16-13 at the interval. Scannell believes tight discipline will be a must in Dublin against Leinster this Saturday.
“We know our discipline has to be spot on and, coming into games like next week, that could be the deciding factor. It was looking like it was going to be the deciding factor after the first half. It was pretty much. We gave them six points, nine points and we had to put it right and I think we did a better job in the second half.”
Also benefiting the Munster team last Saturday was the return of British & Irish Lions trio Conor Murray, CJ Stander and captain Peter O’Mahony, each of whom made a significant contribution to the 39-16 victory over the Blues. That came as no surprise to the hooker after a tour to New Zealand that he believes should only have enhanced their self-belief.
“They are three massive leaders for us,” said Scannell. “I’d hope that it is a boost for their own confidence, but the way the three of them lead the team it would be hard to see a massive difference.
“Pete’s always had that calibre of leader in him. Conor drives a lot of our game and CJ gets over the gainline week in, week out, and they pretty much did that, so it seems to be business as usual and it was brilliant for us to have three Lions in the club. That is absolutely outstanding and I’d hope it gave them a confidence boost to be in that environment.”
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