At 24, Rory Scannell has not been on the Munster scene long enough to bear the pain of the province’s long wait for silverware.
The emotional scar tissue of a seventh season without a trophy does not tear at the nerves the same way it might for more experienced team-mates. Yet Scannell shares the frustration, is aware that for some, the time for glory is running out and is certain he does not want his career to remain unaccompanied by medals for as long as it has for others in the squad.
The Ireland centre will lace up the boots at the RDS on Saturday for Munster’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final showdown against European champions Leinster aiming to help the province into a second successive league play-off final and prevent another season ending unfulfilled.
It will be Scannell’s fourth semi-final in the last two seasons and after emerging trophyless from 2016-17 and falling short to Racing 92 in last month’s Champions Cup semi-final in Bordeaux, that close but no cigar feeling is beginning to wear a little thin.
“There probably is an element of frustration. Last year, it was my first year involved in knockout rugby and you think, ‘oh look, we have next year again’ but for some guys, there isn’t a next year.
“It is turning that frustration into motivation that you are still in the mix and you still have a chance to win a trophy this year. That is what our aim was at the start of the year, so we still have a great opportunity and we are looking forward to Saturday.”
Having finished second in Conference A, Munster reached this weekend’s semi-final with a play-off win over Edinburgh in Limerick a fortnight ago. A 20-16 victory, it was hardly a game to live long in the memory, save for a moment of brilliance from Simon Zebo in his final home game to set up Keith Earls for Munster’s second try and it still needed a late JJ Hanrahan penalty to see them home.
Scannell was quick to offer Leinster’s tense and tight Champions Cup final victory over Racing in Bilbao last Saturday as evidence that you can’t always play the rugby you want to get the job done.
“Edinburgh was a tough arm wrestle against a big physical pack, with a good set-piece,” Scannell said. “As you saw at the weekend with Leinster, they were dragged into an arm-wrestle with a big, physical Racing side. They can vary their game as well. It wasn’t the typical running rugby that we see from Leinster. They came out on the better side of that arm-wrestle. There were no tries scored. We are both used to those games as well.
“I think you are going to get few opportunities in semi-finals, especially Leinster. You might only get one or two try-scoring opportunities at the weekend but I think we will definitely need to adapt to do our best to take them.
“They have a great set-piece and their running game is obviously a massive threat, with Johnny Sexton pulling the strings. They have a lot of internationals throughout the side as well. There are threats all over the park. A good kicking game as well. We will be expecting a tough performance from Leinster at the weekend but we are looking forward to it.”
As well as being newly-crowned kings of Europe, Leo Cullen’s side have also enjoyed home and away wins over their arch-rivals, at the Aviva Stadium in October, and at Thomond Park over Christmas.
“I played in both games,” Scannell said. “But we have a squad that thinks we can go on to win this game. I have been involved in teams that have beaten Leinster as well. We know we can do it. It’s going to be a tough ask but it’s going to be an interesting one. I don’t think there is a massive margin. Leinster have won four European Cups, we have reached six semi-finals, so we are not that far away.
“I think if you look back to two seasons ago we weren’t in the semi-finals of the league nor did we get out of the group stages of Europe, so we have made massive strides since, two (European) semi-finals, another semi-final and final of the PRO14 last year as well.
“That was the aim at the start of the season, to get our hands on silverware. We have a great opportunity now.”
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