Niall Scannell is looking forward to putting an injury-riddled 2017/18 season behind him as he enters a crucial part of the new campaign at both provincial and national level.
The Cork hooker suffered repeated injury setbacks last season which saw him miss out on the 2017 November internationals and was then omitted from the Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign.
The 26-year-old was not originally named in Joe Schmidt’s squad for the tour of Australia in the summer but due to Rory Best’s hamstring injury, Scannell was drafted in and his summer holiday plans were put on hold.
Scannell started the final two Test matches against the Wallabies and performed well but any potential for momentum to be generated going into the new season was halted by surgery on his shoulder – an AC joint injury which delayed his Munster return to the clash against Ulster at Thomond Park.
With games against Ulster, Leinster and the Exeter Chiefs now under his belt, Scannell is keenly looking forward to a Thomond Park European clash, a kind of fixture he missed desperately last season.
“It was probably the biggest thing I missed last year when I was injured, you know, missing those Heineken Cup games. You’re in the stands but it’s just not the same. These are the games that I want to play in and hopefully, if I am selected, it’s just that buzz when you run out at Thomond Park at one o’clock, it will be brilliant. Hopefully, we will get it to capacity and that will be something I will be hugely looking forward to.”
Whatever about form, and Scannell’s has been excellent in his three games so far this season, the Cork man is just happy to be fit.
“Yeah, I’m just happy where I am in terms of I’m fit!
“Last year I found it hard to get games together and that’s my hope this year, that I will just be able to stay fit and keep putting those games together and give what I can for the team. It was just hugely frustrating last year, I felt like every time I took few steps forward, I was taking one back.
“Hopefully, if I can stay fit now, I can put my hand up to be in this team, week in, week out because Rhys [Marshall] is back from injury and that’s just the competition that’s here day on day.”
With Scannell’s injury problems still fresh in his mind, he has opted for a different approach this season which has tailored his mobility programme to his own specific needs, something which he hopes keeps him relatively healthy for the months ahead.
“The medical team here have been unbelievable with me, particularly Ray McGinley and PJ Wilson have worked hugely with me and they’ve given me a load of individual stuff so that’s probably where I’ve gone with it now in terms of mobility and stability, targetting more things specifically for myself.
“I’ve probably moved away from the general mobility programme of the team and in fairness to the lads, they’ve put in huge work for me to develop that for me and they’ve got me on a plan now.
“Look, it’s working so far, you won’t avoid injuries all year and the way I like to play, I wouldn’t expect to but hopefully, it gives me the best chance of staying fit anyway.”
Staying fit, for any player, is a priority but in a World Cup year, it’s vital. Scannell has experienced what happens when you miss chunks of the season through injury but he’s glad he was able to make an impression during the end of the summer tour.
“Well, I was obviously incredibly lucky as well with Rory’s injury,” Scannell reflected.
“I kind of landed in there, I hadn’t really planned it, and then I wasn’t involved in the first week, which made me kind of wonder ‘how much would I be involved in this tour?’
“Then I was starting the next week and I was as surprised as all of you were. Certainly, at that point, I realised I need to get confident at this level, I need to take my chance because you don’t get too many of them at this level.
“The first game went well, then when I ended up starting the second game, it was huge, just to get those two back to back, hopefully, I can put my hand up to Joe, but it was a huge year and everyone is going to be scrambling for that hooker spot.
“You just need to keep building from there.”
Keeping building indeed, and that process continues this Saturday as Munster host Gloucester at Thomond Park.