The rise of the Scannell brothers over the last 12 months has been one of the most timely ascensions to the Munster first team squad in some time. Rory Scannell has taken a lot of the limelight, given his position as the most promising Munster born inside centre in well over 10 years, but Niall Scannell is worthy of equal amounts of praise.
Quite frankly, this is a guy with test potential. And he’s had that potential since he was the Irish u20 captain of a side that included guys like Iain Henderson, Tadgh Furlong, Jack Conan, Kieran Marmion, JJ Hanrahan and Stuart Olding. This season, he seems to be delivering on that promise.
People often say that props don’t really develop until their late 20s, but the same isn’t really said of hookers – wrongly, I’ve always thought. It’s a tough position, and one that needs a variety of skills. You’re expected to be a carrier, a scrummager, a thrower, a breakdown guy; at least if you’re at the top of your game, anyway. It’s one of the areas where, if you’re not “on”, you can look extremely poor. Not many people spot a 13 who’s making errors but everyone can spot a hooker that can’t throw. As far as on-field pressure skills go, I’d put lineout throwing just underneath goal kicking. Maybe even above it when you imagine taking a “must make” throw on your own 5m line with the clock going red.
In this facet of the game, the lineout, that Niall Scannell has faced his biggest criticism so far. Somewhat unfairly, I might add.
I would argue that his throw is technically very good. He’s a got a good roll, a nice back flex, and a wide variation of throws – he can go laser hard, lob it, or go to the tail without much in the way of wasted motion at all.
Here’s one he threw beyond the tail against Cardiff with plenty of gas left on the throw.
That’s a risky throw and he get’s it inch perfect. A hooker with a bad throwing motion doesn’t make these kind of tail shots, and Scannell does it regularly enough.
When it comes to hitting his jumpers at the peak of their jump, he’s quite good too. Here’s a few uncontested throws that he nails perfectly.
That’s a lovely tight spiral, and Holland takes the top off it under zero pressure. The one below, against New Zealand Maori, is another well done throw.
He’s a got a good pace on his throw and it doesn’t drift crooked, as you see with some throwers with lesser technique. That subtle back flex gets the “whip” through the ball and gives his jumper a great chance if they get up in the air first.
These kind of throws aren’t a problem, especially when he’s throwing at Kleyn, O’Shea and Donnacha Ryan. He tends to run into trouble when he’s throwing to a blind jumper. Without getting into too much lineout detail (and boy, could I) a blind jumper is someone who goes behind a pod of front jumpers, where the thrower can’t see the jumpers trigger.
A trigger can be something like a footstomp, a gesture, or a call/count/throw initiated by the lineout caller. The latter are the trickiest of the bunch, because they depend on the hooker throwing to a player that he might not actually see jumping. Your timing has to be spot on. Here’s two examples of where he’s struggled with that aspect.
You see Cronin (#1) fake in on a lift for Holland to bind the Scarlets lifting pod and O’Callaghan gets in the air with Holland and Ryan as his lifter. O’Callaghan, in this instance, is a blind jumper for Scannell to hit. Is it O’Callaghan’s jump that’s a little off? Perhaps. Either way Scannell’s throw is a little too high here, and that can happen when you can’t gauge the jumper straight up.
You can see a better illustration of it here, with O’Callaghan the blind target again.
The timing is a little off and Scarlets get into disrupt. When Munster don’t use a system like this – or when the blind jumper is tall enough that he’s above the jumper decoying in front of him – Scannell hits them regularly, at pace, all along the line.
Scannell’s got all the variants, but the one constant is the speed of the ball. If he’s going over the opposition’s front pod, the ball is almost as fast as a dart to the front. Sometimes the ball’s going at such a clip that the jumper fumbles (see Darren O’Shea a few times this season) but overall his throwing is very, very good. When he misses, he misses high and long, meaning the opposition generally don’t get any straight steals. I’d rate him as Munster’s best thrower, by some distance.
Another complaint I’ve seen about Scannell is that he’s not very big. I suppose that’s true when you compare him with guys like Sean Cronin, Tom Youngs, Dylan Hartley and Augustin Creevy but he plays a lot bigger than he looks. He’s extremely athletic, and very mobile for a front row forward and that shows in the amount of time he’s used as a C defender on Munster’s defensive blitz.
This is an isolated example, but look at the linespeed. His play in the loose is played at the pace of a back row forward. This is most visible in defence, where he’s a very active tackler and a mobile heavy tackler.
Look at his communication, linespeed and technical ability here.
Tackling a player side on like this is an easy recipe to get slipped and beaten, but he nails it perfectly on the hip. It’s practically textbook. Here’s another example from the Maori game where he gets fended in midfield by Ioane but sticks with him to make the follow up tackle.
And he’s got a great engine too. Right now, he’s an 80 minute player with no real drop off in physicality, but with superb athleticism. Here’s a good example of his ability to get around the field as he’s chasing a kickoff.
At the ruck, Scannell shows a high level of intelligence – something that stands out among a lot of the recent crop of academy grads – in his actions on the ball, around the fringes, and in what ones he chooses to contest.
In this example, he’s running a fine line between legal and illegal but times his intervention on the scrumhalf perfectly to win the turnover.
That’s an easy one to mess up and concede a penalty.
On Munster’s ball, he shows good instincts and can get low over a ball carrier extremely quickly. In this little clip, he beats a Maori All Black flanker to the punch with a great low drive, and shows good technique to form a strong guard over the ball carrier.
He’s not short of power at the breakdown either, look at this dominant clearout against Scarlets against his opposite number.
He isn’t lacking for power, and he’ll only get stronger as he develops.
Carrying & Handling
Along with most of the other things that Niall Scannell does, his carrying is very technical and doesn’t just rely on raw power.
He carries low, always tries to shift the point of engagement and doesn’t tend to spill the ball in contact. His ball presentation (and fight on the floor) is generally excellent and, while he might not be a carrier in the vein of Stander or Kilcoyne, he’s an ultra reliable guy to take the ball to the line and get it back.
His ball handling and passing ability is one of his biggest strengths. He’s extremely comfortable passing off both hands, and is a dangerous guy when he takes the ball on the wings.
His body angle after the pass ensures that he makes that window for Wootton. He’s a very smart player.
It’s in the scrum that Scannell is most proficient. It’s hard to GIF what he does here, but you can tell that he’s got his technicalities spot on. He never lifts his striking leg on Munster ball, which keeps his hips nice and low. This keeps the power flowing through, and prevents the opposing pack from getting a surge on post strike.
On the opposition ball, he’s just as proficient at attacking his opponents neck and splitting the tighthead side up alongside Kilcoyne. A lot of Munster’s scrum success has been put on John Ryan’s ascension in the last few months but Scannell is as important, in my opinion.
Given the lack of depth behind Rory Best, it’s only a matter of time before Scannell get’s a shot in green. If it’s anything like his meteoric rise in Munster, he’ll grab that chance with both hands.