URC high-flyer McNicholl says he still has plenty to offer Wales at Test level
Johnny McNicholl has been leading the way in the BKT United Rugby Championship this season and is adamant he still has plenty to offer at international level.
The Scarlets back-three man has made more metres (805) and more offloads (21) than any other player, beaten 26 defenders and produced 13 clean breaks. He’s also made the most metres in contact (68) among the full-backs in the league, while he’s come up with five try assists.
As for his own ever-growing scoring tally, he’s touched down seven times in all competitions. Suffice to say, he’s having a season to remember.
Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel is glowing about the former Crusaders star, describing him as a “devastating attacker”, a disciplined defender and one of the form players in the game.
Yet, despite that fine form, McNicholl hasn’t figured in the Wales set-up since winning the last of his ten caps against Italy just under a year ago.
“Yes, I was disappointed not to be in the Six Nations squad, is the short answer,” he admits.
“It’s just one man’s opinion at the end of the day. I know I am playing well. I’ve been happy with my performances.
“I might not be the type of player they want in their squad. Who knows what they are having in their back-room chats.
“It’s just a couple of people’s opinions and I can’t really change that, other than play well and I feel like I am doing that. So it is what it is.
“I am a confident player and I would probably say I could add something to any squad, be it Wales or any club team in the world.
“But I’m not the one that picks the team. They might have a different agenda, they might want different types of players.
“It’s just the start of that new reign with Wales. It’s disappointing not to have made the squad, but my focus is at the Scarlets and playing really good rugby.
“Normally, playing really good rugby means you get rewarded with higher honours, so hopefully I’ll continue to do that, continue to knock on that door and potentially I can change those minds that are picking those squads.”
Having arrived in Llanelli from New Zealand in 2016 with a reputation as a top-class finisher, McNicholl has lived up to that billing, recently joining an exclusive group of players who have scored 50 tries for the west Wales region.
He brought up his half century against the Dragons in January and has added three more touchdowns to his haul since then.
Head coach Peel has been delighted with the 32-year-old’s all-round game and he’s sure to be a key man for the Scarlets when they travel to Munster this weekend.
“Johnny has been one of the form players. He is a devastating attacker, he loves getting his hands on the ball, he beats defenders and he’s been very disciplined in the defensive side of the game,” said the former Wales and Lions scrum-half.
“He’s got the ability to play 15 and 14. When he’s played on the wing, he’s defended well. I like him at full-back as well because he gets more touches.
“In the Stormers game, he had 26 touches on the ball, which is a hell of a lot for a full-back. Get him on the ball is the biggest thing for me. We need him there as much as we can.”
McNicholl has contributed significantly to the Scarlets’ excellent recent run which has seen them win eight of their last nine matches in all competitions. That’s a big turnaround from the start of the season when they won just one of their first nine.
“I think we always had it in us to be performing well, we just didn’t quite start as we expected,” says the man born in Christchurch, who qualified for Wales on residency.
“Having the trip to South Africa in the autumn got the boys nice and close together. Once a team is gelling well off the field, the performances start happening on it.
“You need confidence to play well. I feel like we have a bit of momentum now and we are looking to keep building that.”
Next up for the Scarlets is the BKT URC clash with Munster at Cork’s Musgrave Park on Friday evening. The Irish province are another team to have turned around a shaky start to the season and are now up to fifth in the table, so it will be a big test for the visitors who are boosted by the return to fitness of Welsh internationals Johnny Williams, Josh Macleod and Tom Rogers.
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