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'He’s been outstanding all year' - Friend backs Marmion for Ireland recall

The scrum-half was last capped at Test level in November 2020.

Kieran Marmion in action against Leicester Tigers last month.
Kieran Marmion in action against Leicester Tigers last month.

ANDY FRIEND HAS backed Kieran Marmion to push for a place in Andy Farrell’s Six Nations squad, claiming the scrum-half is playing some of the best rugby of his career.

Marmion has been in strong form for Connacht this season, delivering a string of impressive performances for the province, who welcome Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers to Galway this weekend.

The 29-year-old has played a key role in Connacht’s new attacking approach, helping Friend’s side play with tempo while also varying his own point of attack, and was to the fore in the recent hard-fought win over Munster at The Sportsground.

And Friend believes Marmion is currently enjoying some of his best rugby in recent seasons.

“He’s been outstanding all year,” Friend said.

“Munster was another really good performance. Craig Casey as we know has been in the Irish squad and Kieran like any player wants to play against the incumbent. And I thought he performed really, really well. He did really well I that game.

“I said to the players afterwards that our senior players really stood up. Bundee (Aki) was outstanding in that game. Maybe not a classic Bundee game in terms of carries and off-loads but his work-rate in breakdown and tackle, the voice he gave to the team was outstanding.

“Jarrad Butler didn’t have huge stats but watching the game closely, he popped up at all the right moments, made his tackles and plugged holes for us, carried when he needed to carry, got rid of opposition threats over the field.

So our senior players were very good in that game and Kieran is one of those who is definitely playing some of the best rugby I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here.”

Last season Marmion found himself in a tight battle for selection alongside Caolin Blade, with the latter’s form rewarded with a Test debut in the summer international against the USA.

Marmion’s last cap for Ireland came back in November 2020 and he has missed out on recent international squads, but Friend says the scrum-half is now in a position to push for a place in Andy Friend’s plans as the Six Nations inches into view.

kieran-marmion-makes-a-break-before-being-stopped-just-short-of-the-try-line Marmion was one of Connacht's stand-out performers in the recent win over Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“He has huge ambition, as all the guys do here. That’s one of the things here as a club, we pride ourselves on our ambition and our belief that we can get there. And Kieran is showing that at the moment. He has huge ambition to wear that green jersey again.

“He knows full well that this weekend (against Leicester Tigers) is a great stage for him to go out and put in another good performance. I’m excited to watch him.

He’s full of confidence at the moment. And he’s getting back to that running game when I first saw him play, when I was interviewing for the job and watching the 2016 Pro Final. I just thought he was unbelievable and he’s getting that running game going which makes him an unbelievably talented footballer.”

Connacht have a relatively clean bill of health ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Leicester Tigers, although winger Mack Hansen will sit the game out due to a calf injury.

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The province pushed the Tigers hard at Welford Road last month, leaving with a losing bonus point, and Friend says he is confident his team can improve on that performance in Galway this weekend.

“We have gained great confidence throughout the year after adjusting our style at the start of the season,” Friend continued.

“Wins like Munster and Stade, the (losing) bonus point in Leicester all cements that and gives the players confidence in knowing that what we are trying to do is right.

“With every game, we are gaining confidence. We do have a very different style to Leicester Tigers, that is pretty evident for anyone who chooses to watch the two game styles. Both are successful in their own ways. Leicester’s is probably more successful than ours, they’ve had another year and a half or so in doing it.

“So it’s going to be a great challenge and that’s the beauty of the game of rugby. You can play it in different ways. And it’s normally down to the team who perfects their style better than the opposition that tends to win it. So that was them at Welford Road a few weeks ago, so hopefully now it can be us in Galway.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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