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'The same teams have been in the league for a good few years': Marmion welcomes Pro12 expansion

South African franchises the Cheetahs and Southern Kings are expected to be added to the league for this season.

Marmion was in Dublin today in his role as Specsavers ambassador.
Marmion was in Dublin today in his role as Specsavers ambassador.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

CONNACHT SCRUM-HALF Kieran Marmion says the prospect of facing two South African teams as part of an expanded Guinness Pro14 will be a ‘different, difficult and exciting’ challenge.

Celtic Rugby yesterday confirmed discussions are taking place between the tournament organisers and the South African Rugby Union over the addition of the Cheetahs and Southern Kings for the 2017/18 season.

The new structure and format has yet to be officially announced but it’s expected to be rubber-stamped over the next week, with Marmion saying the idea has been well received by players.

“It’s exciting,” the Irish international told The42 in Dublin this afternoon.

“I’d enjoy them coming into the league, obviously going away to South Africa and testing yourselves against them is a bit of an unknown challenge for most of us.

“We don’t know what sort of competitiveness they’re going to bring to the league but I’m sure they’ll bring a huge amount and obviously any time you go away to a country like that, it’s hugely physical and it will present us with a different kind of challenge.

“Everyone is pretty excited about that hopefully happening.”

Under the proposals, the competition would be split into two divisions of seven teams with Irish provinces facing a trip to South Africa once a season, although the players remain uncertain as to how the schedule for the season will look.

Pat Lam Lam and the Connacht replacements during the game in Russia in November 2015. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Marmion wasn’t part of the Connacht squad which made the 12,000 mile round trip to Siberia to face Enisei-STM in the Challenge Cup in November 2015 but he knows those 10 days (Pat Lam’s side got stuck in Moscow coming home) took their toll.

Making the journey to Bloemfontein or Port Elizabeth wouldn’t be as much of a logistic nightmare yet it will present everyone involved with far greater challenges than in preparation for any other away fixture.

“I missed that trip,” Marmion says of the now infamous trek to Russia.

“The lads that did go to Siberia said it was one of the best trips they’ve been on but it is a lot of travelling and time spent on the plane. I know they trained at 6 in the morning in Russia to get used to the time difference.

“I’m sure the S&C coaches will have everything prepared for that and I guess we just have to follow everything they’re telling us and trust the systems they have in place.

“It’ll be something a bit different but at the same time the same teams have been in the league for a good few years so now so anytime a new team joins it’s hugely exciting. It will be a change and it will present many challenges but everyone’s looking forward to that.”

Kieran Marmion today launched Specsavers first ever Kids Spectacle Wearer of the Year Awards, a competition that looks to celebrate children in Ireland who wear glasses with pride. The competition will help raise vital funds for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, with Specsavers donating €1 to the charityfor every entry received. Visit specsavers.ie/kids-swoty

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