Munster are going through a horrific run of bad luck with injuries and suspensions, nowhere more than in the centre, where Rory Scannell has been close to a one-man band for much of the past couple of months.
When the season began, it looked like he would have a battle on his hands to hold on to the number 12 jersey, with Jaco Taute and the newly- arrived Chris Farrell offering serious opposition and the likes of Dan Goggin and Sammy Arnold also in the running.
One by one, though, they all fell by the wayside until it looked for a time that only Scannell would be standing his ground going into tomorrow’s Guinness PRO14 clash with Connacht at Thomond Park.
As it transpired, Farrell battled his way back to full fitness just in time and he and Scannell will renew their partnership in what has suddenly become a very important fixture after back-to-back defeats by Leinster and Ulster.
“No, I don’t think the pressure is greater on us this time,” insists Scannell.
“We just need to put in a good performance. I am sure if we do that, the result will hopefully go the way we want and that will help to build confidence going into the next two weekends in a different competition.
“But we are second in our conference and top of our European pool so I don’t think we will look at it too negatively. We are in a good place and we need to keep the place positive.
“We were slow out of the blocks against Leinster and, you know, if you give a team of that quality a lead like that, you are going to struggle. I think we played some good rugby in the second half when the score in our favour was 19-7, but at that stage, it was too late.
It was the other way around against Ulster. We will be looking to get some balance there and put in an 80-minute rather than a 40-minute performance.”
Scannell is an invaluable member of the Munster back division for a number of reasons: sharp and aggressive in attack, brave and resolute in defence, and blessed with a cultured left foot.
But Ireland are blessed with other outstanding talent in the centre with Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, and Bundee Aki among those chasing places in the Six Nations next month.
Maintaining his rich run of form all season against Connacht can only further Scannell’s prospects of adding to his three Irish caps.
“Obviously, I will be looking to put in a good performance in an interpro derby,” he says. “The Irish squad will be announced in a few weeks and I’ll be doing my best to put my hand up. I’ll just be concentrating on my own performance and make sure I add to the team’s performance.
“You know that Joe Schmidt and the other coaches are looking mainly at the European games and the interpro derbies. They are looking at certain lads going up against each other and it would be in the back of your mind, but for the moment, we are just concentrating on Munster.
This is an important time for the club. That is at the forefront for us at the minute but I am sure some players might have it at the front of their minds all right.”
Indiscipline has been to the forefront of much that has been spoken of in the Munster camp this week. “When you are giving away double-digit penalties, especially away from home in big games with excellent goal kickers, you are going to struggle,” he says.
“And when you build up that number of penalties you are also going to get some cards. I think our discipline was quite good in the Leicester games. We gave away seven penalties in Welford Road and came away with a great win.
“It is also critical to have 15 players on the pitch for the full 80 minutes. It is about controlling the controllable.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved