A wing and a prayer for versatile Kieran Marmion

You can picture the scene at half-time. Organised chaos.

Panting players streaming in the door of the dressing-room, coaches preparing nuggets of info, and maybe the odd Churchillian speech, while medics and physios nurse battered and bruised bodies into some sort of shape before the resumption of hostilities.

By the time Ireland reached the sanctuary of their ‘shed’ for the pause on Saturday evening, the game had already began to take an ominous turn what with Australia’s opening try moments before the interval and a casualty list that seemed to be expanding exponentially.

Amidst it all came the realisation that Jared Payne’s day was done. A fourth man down and yet another rejig along the backline.

So it was that Kieran Marmion found himself a castaway on the wing, miles from the solid ground of a scrum-half. The last time he had patrolled the tramlines he was 16 years of age, studying at Kirkham Grammar School and on the books of the Cardiff Blues academy.

It took a moment for this significant penny to drop.

Tadhg Furlong didn’t realise that the Connacht nine had replaced Payne until he already returned to the field and the stadium announcer only confirmed his arrival minutes after the the other half-time changes had been shared with the Aviva crowd.

Marmion’s unfamiliar station bore a disquieting similarity to Peter O’Mahony’s stint as emergency cover on the wing against Italy in Rome three years ago. Everything that could go wrong went disastrously wrong that day and the third quarter two nights ago followed suit.

But then Ireland survived. Marmion, too.

He finished with six tackles made and just one slipped. He launched himself at the likes of David Pocock and Israel Folau and lived to tell the tale and more with a couple of sniping runs so typical of a scrum-half that bought Ireland time and space and momentum.

“I obviously haven’t played there much so it was about trusting my instincts, really,” said Marmion. “The lads on the sideline actually helped me out a good bit, (skills coach) Richie Murphy was kind of telling me what to do so I was trying to listen to him and to get on with it, really.” Australia contributed to their own defeat. They said as much themselves afterwards and the sight of Folau butchering a three-on-one overlap when bearing down Marmion’s wing at one point stands as irrefutable proof of the fact that Ireland’s method was all a bit harum scarum.

It’s impossible to overstate the seriousness of the home team’s predicament on the hour. “Boys, let’s go home, all the time,” said Michael Hooper to his colleagues as Bernard Foley lined up a kick to take them four in front. “Right through ’em.” It hardly needed saying.

If there was any uncertainty at that point it seemed to be about what the Wallabies’ winning margin would be, but Rory Best and Jamie Heaslip were by then preaching peace and tranquility under the posts while the rest of the stadium was losing hope and heads.

“No, it was all pretty calm,” said Marmion. “The lads kind of were all over the place, Joey (Carbery) was at full-back and (Keith Earls) Earlsy went back into 13. Everyone was just pretty calm. We just trusted our instincts and just tried to work together and kept pushing on.

“it is about doing your own job. With Joey at ful- back, and with me on the wing, they were asking a few questions of us – which obviously isn’t ideal because you want to get on and do your own job. But lads helped each other out. Which was great.”


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