Rory Scannell says managing penalty count is key to away French win.

Munster go into round one of the Champions Cup this weekend off the back of a fairly mixed last three weeks of Guinness Pro 14 action with a win against Cardiff at home sandwiched between away losses to Glasgow and Leinster.

However, Munster’s success and progression is always judged by the harsher yardstick that is the premier European competition and this year is no different. As is so often the case, a tough opening pool game away against a physical French side means that Rassie Erasmus and his side will have no time to dwell on the Leinster performance.

Scannell in action against Leicester Tigers last season

Coming away from the Aviva with a losing bonus point was no disgrace but one got the feeling at the Munster press briefing this week of a team that knows it could and should have done better especially when it came to discipline and unforced errors.

Speaking with the media this week, Scannell identified the try scoring prowess Munster now have and said but for a few errors at key points in the game that the result might have been a bit different.

“It’s great to outscore them in terms of tries, unfortunately we didn’t get the result but I think if we could have cut out the ill-discipline we would have had a good chance of getting the win. And obviously there was Earls’ try disallowed in the first half for a forward pass, so there is plenty of positives to take from the game and we’ll be looking to bring them forward into Sunday.”

While the interpro defeat was a blow, Munster have to dust themselves down and prepare for what is going to be an immense physical challenge from Castres at the Stade Pierre Antoine. Like Munster, the French side come into the game on the back 27-22 defeat away at the hands of Brive. In fact Castres have only won two of their opening five games in the Top14 and are languishing in 11th place in the standings. It should be noted that one of their victories came against the current champions Clermont, so they certainly cannot be taken for granted.

Regardless of their league form, a French team playing on home soil in the first game of the competition is arguably the toughest opening fixture in the competition, a lot different than say round 5 or 6 especially if their elimination has already been confirmed.

Munster know they will have to be at their best on Sunday and Scannell is aware that October is a crucial month for the province. The Dolphin centre believes that Munster will need to up a gear or two in the south of France this weekend.

“It’s a tough block of games for us. It’s probably good to have a game against a quality side like Leinster going into Europe because the level of intensity there will be quite similar. We’ve been chopping and changing a bit trying to get lads equal game time coming into this block which is great so now everyone’s pretty fresh coming into a big few weeks”

“We know ourselves coming in on a Monday morning it’s a step up. Probably only a small step up from a team like Leinster but in terms of the pro 14 in general, it’s that added level of intensity and physicality. It’s always tough to go to France and get a win and I think over the last few years any game’s that we’ve won in France our penalty count has been quite low so I think that’s going to be key going into Saturday”

The former PBC student could be in line to renew his partnership with new recruit Chris Farrell on Sunday afternoon to combat the French side’s powerful likely centre partnership of Florian Vialelle and Robert Ebersohn. Scannell is expecting a tough afternoon.

“Yeah big physical centres, you see that a lot with the French teams and hopefully we wont give them too much go forward up front. We’ll look to take it to them physically as well”

With Munster’s 159th record breaking European game coming up, the now Irish International, and fans alike are looking forward to the opening round and with 2 years experience under his belt at this level now, it’s set to be another promising year for the 23 year old.

Scannell, who has often been deployed at out half for Munster – an indicator of his skill level and perception of the game – is no stranger to French opposition having featured against Stade Francais, Racing Metro and Toulouse in last year’s quarter final. The Cork man is looking forward to the challenge.

“It’s very exciting. I got my first bit of exposure two years ago, we played Stade Francais and Racing last year as well and the crowd over there have a great atmosphere. It’s really enjoyable to play in but it’s a tough challenge at the same time but we’re really looking forward to it”

“We know the level of physicality and intensity that’s required and it’s probably the same as every other European game. The French crowds probably a bit louder than usual but it’s nothing we’re not used to and I think we’re in a good place now”


Rory Scannell in action against Toulouse

Rory Scannell in action against Toulouse

It is also worth noting that Munster’s game on Sunday comes almost a year to the day since the paling of Anthony Foley in Paris last year. Scannell admits that he and his team mates will have Axel on their minds going into the clash, but also makes the case that the former Heineken Cup winning captain would have been very proud of what his side achieved in what was such a tough year for the province.

“I think a lot of teams wrote us off last year having not qualified out of the group the season before. We were probably considered the weaker team in our group last year and I Think we finished top seed and got to a semi so I think he would be quite happy and proud of us. He’ll certainly be in the back of our minds going over to France this weekend”