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Connacht's Marmion sets out to ensure he's not Ireland's forgotten man at 9

The scrum-half returns to the Connacht team for the first time since November against Montpellier today.

INJURIES ARE ALWAYS a frustration but Kieran Marmion must have cursed the back issue that struck him early in November of last year. It has kept him sidelined until Connacht’s clash away to Montpellier in the Champions Cup today [KO 3.15pm Irish time, BT Sport].

Not only did that back injury prevent Marmion from ensuring he wrestled first-choice status at Connacht back from Caolin Blade in recent months; it also meant he was out of the picture for Ireland as the Andy Farrell era got underway.

kieran-marmion Marmion hasn't played since November. Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

Marmion missed December’s stocktake, when Farrell included no less than five scrum-halves in Blade, newcomer Jamison Gibson-Park, John Cooney, and last year’s World Cup nines, Conor Murray and Luke McGrath. 

Earlier this week, Farrell whittled his options down to Cooney, Murray, and McGrath for the Six Nations. Marmion has been out of sight and, while not out of mind for Farrell, surely feeling very much on the outside.

Missing out on World Cup selection under Joe Schmidt last year hit Marmion hard. The 2019 World Cup had long been a major marker in Marmion’s career ambitions.

He was deeply dejected and returned to Connacht with dark clouds hanging over him. His training form suffered and Blade took his chance early on in the season, starting the first three games of the campaign.

Also hanging over Marmion was a big decision on his future. His contract was set to expire at the end of this season and he had options elsewhere. The now-beleaguered Saracens expressed strong interest, while there were inquiries from elsewhere in the UK.

Stay and fight back into Ireland contention? Or venture away from Connacht to take on a new challenge?

kieran-marmion Marmion missed out on the World Cup squad last year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In the end – and soon after he was first sidelined with the back injury – Marmion opted for the former, committing to a new three-year deal with Connacht that well keep him with the western province until the summer of 2023. Essentially, he’s committing what he will expect to be the peak seasons of his career to Irish rugby.

Marmion will be 31 by the end of this deal and he will hope to have notably added to his 27 Ireland caps to put him in a strong position to challenge for a World Cup spot under Farrell, presuming the head coach is still in position for the tournament in France.

It’s impossible to accurately predict that far ahead though – who knows which of his current rivals will still be performing at the highest level or which promising youngsters will emerge into the Ireland set-up in the coming years.

Marmion will simply be desperate to get back into the fold as soon as possible, with a tour to Australia this summer and an exciting trio of games against Japan, the Wallabies, and the Springboks in Dublin in November of this year.

The first step towards that is playing well today against what is a strong Montpellier team that includes World Cup-winning Springboks out-half Handré Pollard. 

It’s a dead-rubber of a Champions Cup tie and while Connacht boss Andy Friend will be keen to avoid injuries, he is also determined to finish this block with a convincing performance before Connacht have a four-week spell until their next game in the Pro14.

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kieran-marmion The 27-year-old starts against Montpellier today. Source: Bundee Aki/INPHO

Marmion will be thinking along similar lines – make his point in the number nine jersey, then use the month-long block to get into even better physical condition. His late return to action means this Six Nations is probably out of the picture even if there are injuries in Farrell’s squad, but Marmion can work his way back into contention further down the line. 

Having moved to Connacht at the age of 19 in large part to chase Test caps, Marmion won’t succumb easily to the danger of becoming Ireland’s forgotten man at scrum-half.

Montpellier:

15. Johan Goosen
14. Gabriel N’gandebe
13. Arthur Vincent
12. Jan Serfontein
11. Yvan Reilhac
10. Handré Pollard
9. Benoit Paillaugue

1. Usha Tcheisvhili
2. Bismarck Du Plessis
3. Levan Chilachava
4. Nico Janse van Rensburg
5. Paul Willemse
6. Kelian Galletier (captain)
7. Yacouba Camara
8. Jacques Du Plessis

Replacements:

16. Vincent Giudicelli
17. Mikheil Nariashvili
18. Mohamed Haouas
19. Fulgence Ouedraogo
20. Kahn Fotuali’i
21. Anthony Bouthier
22. Thomas Darmon
23. Konstantine Mikautadze

Connacht:

15. Tiernan O’Halloran
14. John Porch
13. Kyle Godwin
12. Bundee Aki
11. Matt Healy
10. Jack Carty
9. Kieran Marmion

1. Paddy McAllister
2. David Heffernan
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Joe Maksymiw
5. Gavin Thornbury
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Jarrad Butler (captain)

Replacements:

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Denis Buckley
18. Conor Kenny
19. Niall Murray
20. Eoin McKeon
21. Caolin Blade
22. Conor Fitzgerald
23. Tom Daly

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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