Niall Scannell today ends his year-long wait for an eighth Ireland cap and has the chance to put a season of frustration in the rear-view mirror.
The 26-year-old hooker starts this morning’s second Test against the Wallabies, just two weeks after learning he would be going on tour as a late call-up, following a hamstring injury to Rory Best.
He had been expecting a low-key summer, after a season with Munster repeatedly interrupted by injury. He missed the November internationals and was omitted from the Six Nations squad.
Being left out of the summer tour, when Joe Schmidt announced Best, Sean Cronin, and Rob Herring as his three hookers, was no surprise, but then came Scannell’s chance to join the party and the Cork man is grabbing it with both hands.
The planned holiday has been put on hold and today he picks up his first cap since last summer’s tour to the United States and Japan.
Having debuted as a late replacement for a sick Best in Rome in 2017, before covering for the skipper off the bench through the rest of that Six Nations campaign, this game is a reward for his patience.
“Rory has the jersey, at the moment. He is the skipper and the rest of us are probably fighting for that second spot,” Scannell said.
“I thought I had a good summer last summer, in Japan and America, but this season didn’t break for me. I didn’t really get a flow of games.
“But since I got here, I have just tried to knuckle down and get on the same wavelength as everyone, in terms of the knowledge, the detail, and to work physically hard. Now, thankfully, I have been given a chance. I just have to grab it.”
Despite becoming used to disappointment this season, Scannell had not lost the belief another chance would come along, even when he was initially left out of the Australia tour.
“It is not that you think you are a bad player. You just think, ‘it’s disappointing’.
“I knew Rob (Herring) had performed in November, and he had done a good job in the Six Nations, whereas I hadn’t played a lot of minutes for Ireland. I could see the logic there, and that was something I had to accept.
“On the flip side, I got a call later to say, ‘come into camp anyway, because Rory is a bit doubtful, and it would get you up to speed with things, because it has been a while’. It went well for me. So, from a confidence point of view, it is not as if I thought I was performing badly, I just hadn’t done it consistently enough and hadn’t got a run of games.
“And I knew that. It wasn’t a big loss of confidence and once I got into this environment, it was an easy switch to flip, because it is so intense and competitive and I wasn’t really going to come on the plane to just be part of the tour. The attitude I took was ‘I am here now, I am back in the hunt’. I must have done something right, because Joe has picked me and it is up to me to deliver now.”
Scannell is not daunted by that challenge. In fact, an examination of both skillset and character is something he relishes.
“I am relishing that, and you know you are going to be tested and you are going to come out of it on Saturday knowing a lot more about yourself as a person, as well as a rugby player.
“I have had big tests in Six Nations where, maybe, there wasn’t a lot expected of me, like when Rory got sick before Italy, on the day before the game. But I came through that and I am under no illusions, now, that this will be tough, because it is against a Tier One nation.
“The more you’re inside the environment, there’s the honour of playing for your country and that’s the main thing, but it’s such a proud, competitive, winning team that there’s pride in being here, but there’s also an onus and responsibility to push things on.
“I love that I’m here. I’m enjoying being here, but, at the same time, there’s that sense that I have to add to this. That’s what you want.
“I want to be able to hang up that number-two jersey on Saturday, thinking ‘I added something to this’. That’s what you’re aiming to do.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved