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'He's brilliant' - Blade pushes Ireland claims as Boyle shines for Connacht

22-year-old Conor Fitzgerald is another youngster impressing for Andy Friend’s side.

KIERAN MARMION, CURRENTLY sidelined through injury, still has to make a decision on his future, with Connacht keen to hang onto the Ireland international but several clubs abroad chasing him.

The scrum-half has interest from Saracens, whose salary cap issues may change their recruitment picture, but the reigning Premiership champions aren’t the only club looking to sign Marmion.

In his absence, Caolin Blade is continuing to shine for Connacht in their number nine jersey.

caolin-blade-breaks-free-to-score-a-try Caolin Blade scored a crucial try for Connacht on Sunday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 25-year-old has used Marmion’s stints away in Ireland camp in recent seasons to impressive effect, continually improving as a player to the point where Blade has kept Marmion out of the team when both have been available.

On current form, Blade is Connacht’s first-choice scrum-half and his performance in Sunday’s win over Montpellier in the Heineken Champions Cup was the latest illustration that he can continue to rise each time he is asked to step up a level.

Blade was man of the match with a relentlessly busy performance in which he scored a try and laid the platform for another with a powerful sniping run. His sharp passing and demanding direction of Connacht’s forwards stood out as head coach Andy Friend left him on the pitch for the full 80 minutes.

The Monivea man was named in Ireland’s squad for the opening rounds of this year’s Six Nations but didn’t win a first cap.

With Andy Farrell having taken over from Joe Schmidt as head coach, every player in Ireland is striving to impress at present and Blade’s latest performance won’t have been missed by the new boss.

“He’s brilliant, mate,” said Connacht head coach Andy Friend of Blade. “He has got amazing feet, he’s a great little leader too actually.

“He doesn’t have the captain’s tag next to his name but he’s a very influential leader. He sees the game very well, he knows what he wants, he demands that. He works hard himself and there is a lot to like about him.”

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paul-boyle-and-colby-faingaa Boyle [left] had another big outing for Connacht last weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Among the other standouts for Connacht last weekend was flanker Paul Boyle, who is building on a superb breakout season for the western province in 2018/19.

The 22-year-old clearly bulked up over the extended pre-season and his increased physicality was evident alongside his usual levels of intelligence in a convincing display against a big Montpellier team on what was his Champions Cup debut.

Gorey man Boyle is a former Ireland U20 captain who was overlooked by his native Leinster’s academy before being handed an opportunity in Connacht. He has grabbed that chance with both hands and is another player who appears to have international potential.

“He continues to grow,” said Friend of Boyle. “He is a very astute man as well. He knew that Europe is another level and he came in to see me the other day and said, ‘What else do you need from me?’

“I said, ‘Just the things we’ve been talking about: Don’t chase a game, don’t try and find a big play, just the things you do, just do it with a bit more anger a bit more aggression and a bit more accuracy and you’ll be fine’.

“And he gave us that. That first carry off the kick-off he bumps into two men and fights his way through another six or seven metres and we get energy off that. He’s going really well, mate.”

jack-carty-and-conor-fitzgerald Conor Fitzgerald came on for Jack Carty and made an impact. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Continuing the theme of players grabbing their opportunity in Europe, Friend was pleased with the impact made by 22-year-old out-half Conor Fitzgerald off the bench for Connacht against Montpellier.

The former Limerick minor hurler was released from Munster’s academy in 2018 before Connacht signed him and he has developed impressively since. 

Soon after throwing a brave pass wide to the left with his first touch, Fitzgerald calmly slotted the winning penalty for Connacht on Sunday in the latest milestone in his burgeoning career.

“It was a tough one for us because Jacko [Jack Carty] has just come back in and Fitzy has been so good in those opening five rounds,” said Friend of how tough it had been to leave Fitzgerald out of his team after such an impressive Pro14 season so far.

“25 minutes to go it was, ‘Let’s give him a shot’ and again he rewarded us. That penalty kick that he took wasn’t an easy kick given the circumstances. The kick for touch, the pass, he did very well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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