From apprentice to senior partner, Rory Scannell has made the leap from pretender to midfield mainstay in the space of a season but understands he has to become a leader to the Munster backs hopeful of following in his wake.
Scannell, 22, took the chance given to him by head coach Anthony Foley when veteran Denis Hurley was injured midway through Munster’s trying campaign.
In the academy at the time, the Corkman did more than just keep his head above water, he made the inside-centre berth his own, starting each of the province’s 16 games since Christmas Day and forging an exciting midfield partnership with New Zealander Francis Saili as he became his side’s most-capped back with 26 appearances last term.
It was enough to earn him a senior contract and a conversation with Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, who made it clear the centre would be considered if his progress continued on the trajectory it had taken in his rookie season.
Yet a long-term shoulder injury for outside centre Saili, which is expected to keep the All Blacks-capped star out until Christmas, means Scannell is now the main man in midfield as Munster bid to open their Guinness Pro12 campaign tomorrow with a trip to Scarlets.
And with a less experienced partner on his outside shoulder, the incoming 13 will be looking to Scannell for leadership in the same way he looked up to Saili and others last season.
“There are great options in the centre. I am probably the guy who got most game time there after Francis last season,” said Scannell.
“A lot of the guys stepping in there will probably be looking to me and the other lads around that have been playing regularly for bits of advice and help, so yeah, I probably do have to step up a bit in that sense going forward this season.
“You have the likes of Dan Goggin who played last week [at outside centre in the friendly win against Worcester]. That was his first senior start, so he is probably in the same position I was last year where you never know, all of a sudden you could find yourself playing a good bit. He is going really well.
“You have Cian Bohane and Collie O’Shea, these lads as well as options there. I will certainly be looking to help them out as well if they are stepping in.”
Scannell appreciates the opportunity presented to him and believes he reaped the benefits of his extended tenure in the number 12 jersey.
“Yeah, I think getting a run of games in the one position is very important. I had played a bit of 10 and 15 over the past few years and you just want to get comfortable in one spot.
“Your mindset changes playing in different positions, so when you get that run of games in the one position it comes more naturally and helps you push on your own game as well which is important.”
The impact he made in Munster’s backline was such that he came to the attention of Ireland boss Schmidt, and Scannell’s ambitions for this campaign have been elevated as a result of his “brief” chat with the New Zealander at the end of last season.
“Last year I was hoping to get a game here and there when I could and try and impress. This year, when you become a more regular in the first team, you kind of look at bigger goals. Obviously the main goal is to probably push on and play with Ireland.
“When you play against the guys in your position, you look to get the upper hand on them, so I think that is certainly in my sights this year.
“[Schmidt] said he wanted to see more of what I was doing last year and I won’t be far off if I keep doing that.
“It drives you on that bit more that they are looking at you. It drives you on to get into that green jersey.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved