It wasn’t quite the Rugby World Cup debut Niall Scannell might have dreamed about. In the 73rd minute of the opening pool game against Scotland, the Munster hooker was brought into the fray – as an emergency openside flanker.
Speaking at the Ireland team announcement in Kobe on Tuesday morning Japan time, after being named to start against Russia on Thursday, Scannell still seemed a little bemused at the experience and suggested that one of his Munster team-mates back at home was equally baffled.
“I got a text off Tommy O'Donnell, who was my room-mate in Carton House, saying that after all he's been through I came on in the World Cup at seven and he was left at home!
“I'm not sure how well I went. It was a new experience for me anyway, but it's not something I'd be looking to again any time soon.
“It certainly wasn't anything I'd prepared for but with Pete (O’Mahony) coming off early I had to stick in there and do it,” added Scannell, who will win his 18th cap in the extreme humidity of the Kobe Misaki Stadium, where the roof will be shut and sweat is likely to pour as soon as the game starts.
It will be like the glory days of Munster rugby in Kobe, with the province represented by six of the starting pack, including the entire front five of Scannell, Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne.
“Obviously I have a familiarity with the lads and on a short turnaround that probably is a bit helpful,” Scannell said. “But it's not something that we've really spoken about either. It wouldn't really have mattered who was in this week, we're all unbelievably motivated and we're across our detail.
Scannell will have the added challenge of dealing with a ball that has been compared to a bar of soap by those who have already experienced the Kobe sweatbox.
“Watching Scotland and Samoa last night it was pretty evident,” he said. “You're talking about players of a very high skill level really struggling just to hold the ball.
“From a lineout point of view it's going to be a factor. But it's just something we've got to adapt to and it's the old cliché it's the same for both teams.”
The 27-year-old, who has been on the winning side in 15 of his 17 Test appearances, also paid tribute to World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, who will captain his country for the first time on Thursday.
“It's great for him as a personal accolade to be captain, but I think his usual leadership qualities will be what he brings to it,” Scannell said.
“It's great for him personally, but he always brings huge leadership to us. We've seen time and time again, so I think it won't be a huge change for us as a team.”
Sexton himself was clearly thrilled to be named captain, having been told of the honour only before training on Tuesday, when Ireland had a hit-out against a youthful Kobe Steelers team.
“It’s a massive honour,” he said. “I spoke to Joe this morning, so I only found out myself over the last few hours. I haven’t even had a chance to tell my family or anything, but I’m sure they’re going to be very proud as well.
“It’s something that I’ve thought about since I was a kid, something I’ve made a lot of decisions around, trying to get there one day. It has taken a while but it was worth the wait and I’m incredibly proud.
“I want to be captain now of a good performance and a good win in a World Cup game, so that’s my main focus – I don’t think anything changes really for me. I have a big responsibility in the team anyway so nothing has changed.”
In all, Munster will provide eight of the starting team. Peter O’Mahony is in the back row and Keith Earls, who showed scintillating pace at 32 to chase down Japan’s Kenki Fukuoka and save a losing bonus point in Shizuoka, joins Andrew Conway on the wing.
With Chris Farrell ruled out of the game after failing a head injury assessment in Shizuoka, the centre partnership will be Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, who starts his third consecutive game.
Ireland will secure qualification for the quarter-finals should they achieve bonus-point victories against both Russia and Samoa. However, their hopes of topping Pool A were shaken by the defeat in Shizuoka.
They will need Japan to trip up against Samoa or Scotland if they are to win the pool and move on to a likely quarter-final against South Africa. The runners-up in Pool A are likely to face New Zealand.
1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Niall Scannell
3. John Ryan
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. Jean Kleyn
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Peter O'Mahony
8. Jordi Murphy
9. Luke McGrath
10. Johnny Sexton (capt.)
11. Keith Earls
12. Bundee Aki
13. Garry Ringrose
14. Andrew Conway
15. Rob Kearney
16. Sean Cronin
17. Andrew Porter
18. Tadhg Furlong
19. Iain Henderson
20. CJ Stander
21. Joey Carbery
22. Jack Carty
23. Jordan Larmour
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