As the back end of the season approaches the motivations pile up.
Guinness PRO12 semi-final
Saturday: Thomond Park, 6.15pm
TV: Sky Sports
A first piece of silverware in six years will be Munster’s if they can win just two more Guinness PRO12 games but they face the Ospreys in Limerick in the second semi-final this weekend encouraged by other thoughts besides.
Making up for their no-show against Saracens in the Champions Cup semi-final is an obvious one. Registering a win on their last day out at Thomond Park is another obvious marker in a season that will always be remembered for the passing of Anthony Foley.
“We obviously miss him a lot,” said Rory Scannell. “We’ve kind of dedicated our performances to him. It’s obviously staying with us.
“I think we’re playing quite well for him and he’d be proud of us. I think he was a bit frustrated because he knew how good we can be. We’ve shown it (that form) this season whereas last season, as I’ve said before, we were a young side and maybe a bit afraid to show how good we are. We’re going well and that’s what he was looking for. We’re playing for him.”
That Sarries defeat still rankles. Munster, after a blistering opening sequence, were muted that day at the Aviva Stadium. When Scannell scans for a word to describe their approach he reaches in the end for “conservative” which pretty much hits the hail on the head.
So much has been done right this year.The pep is back in their step. Rassie Erasmus and a staff that included Foley until October have recalibrated the red machine but there is a realisation inside and outside the camp that solid structures now need buttressing with a more potent attacking thrust.
“Every team kind of goes through that transition period,” said the 23-year old centre. “If you look at it we have quite a young squad and last year was probably a 0season where it didn’t go as well as we would have liked.
“But there’s a lot of guys now who are regular starters who are building on that. We pride ourselves on our defence but we need to be a bit more clinical in attack and I think we are getting there. We won a lot of games this year that we would have lost last year.”
Collective progress hinges on individual improvement.
Scannell is probably the archetype of the young Munster player who has come on in leaps and bounds but one who also needs to take the next major leap. Seven tries in 52 appearances is probably a good indicator of an area that he can work on.
“Last year, as a young guy coming into the team you are maybe more nervous about trying things and, as you get a bit more experience, you feel a bit more confident. You try a few more things: that extra pass, kick, whatever it may be.
“I can add to my game a bit more. We have a lot of dangerous backs especially and hopefully, I can look to put a few of those guys away in the next few games. I had quite a solid defensive season last year but I have looked to build on that attacking side of my game as well.”
Other carrots again are tempting him onwards.
Big brother Niall has only two more provincial caps than him but the hooker has worn the green jersey four times too. Rory has walked the halls at Carton House but the closest he has come yet to a debut was a stint or two as 24th man during the Six Nations. The higher altitude hasn’t concerned him. If anything, his elevation up the ranks has just persuaded him that he isn’t all that far from the summit and Schmidt’s words and actions to date have only steeled him more to the task at hand.
“He just said that the guys who have played in midfield for him in the last few years have performed for him when they’ve been given the chance. So it’s up to me really when I play with Munster to keep putting my hand up.
“When that opportunity arises I have to take it. He just said to keep doing what I am doing. As a 12 I am a bit different of a player to Robbie (Henshaw). He is obviously very physical and I am a bit more of a distributor and kicker so it’s good to have that as a midfielder.”
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