Kieran Marmion is not about to argue he is a viable alternative to Conor Murray for the Ireland number nine jersey. Not yet at least.
Like most of the rugby world, the Connacht player views the incumbent scrum-half as “probably the best in the world” in that position and accepts the battle he needs to be contesting is to hold off Leinster’s Luke McGrath for a place on the replacements bench, continuing this Saturday against France. That does not mean, however, that Marmion lacks the ambition to make the Ireland scrum-half berth his own.
“Obviously I want to challenge him but at the moment I think he’s probably the best in the world,” Marmion, 25, said yesterday. “Everything... his basics, he’s so good at, and that’s something I want to improve on to get closer to him. He’s going really well at the moment so I have to keep trying as hard as I can to improve as much as I can to get as close to him as I can.
“Joe is always driving on to me about the basics of the game. I mean, when you step up to the Irish standard, players have a lot less time on the ball so it’s just about making sure everyone’s as sharp as possible.
“He (Murray) is probably the best passer and kicker in the game, especially his kicking at the moment is so accurate, and that’s something I want to try to get to. You just have to work away at it. It’s repetition. Obviously, he’s a lot bigger than me so he gets the leverage in his passing and his kicking, so I just have to be sharper and try and get my release on the ball quicker, and try and make sure the lads outside me have more time.”
Playing back-up to a player so dominant in his position may have echoes of the plight Ian Madigan has found himself in as a young fly-half behind Johnny Sexton with Leinster and Ireland but Marmion is the kingpin at Connacht, where his running game is more suited to the province’s gameplan under head coach Pat Lam and his successor next season, fellow New Zealander Kieran Keane.
Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy acknowledged as much yesterday when asked how close Marmion was to being a genuine rival to Munster hero Murray.
“They’re very different types of scrum-halves,” Murphy said. “I think he’s (Marmion) still got a way to go in terms of how we try to play. Kieran is a really good running scrum-half, a really big threat later on in the games. Where we’re seeing him at the moment is that he could cause a lot of trouble when teams are starting to fatigue.
“Conor is probably a little more classic. He kicks well, passes well, he understands the game, he deals with the pressure very well and I still think he has a fair bit of an edge in relation to his passing and kicking game over Kieran at the moment.”
While Marmion is committed to reaching the requirements of a Test scrum-half, he is not about to abandon his running game and he welcomed Monday’s announcement Chiefs attack coach and former All Black Keane was to replace the departing Lam this summer.
“I don’t know too much about him. He is an attacking coach with the Chiefs so I guess that is great to build on what Pat has brought to us. Connacht want to push forward with attacking rugby and playing a certain style so hopefully he can push us on again after Pat leaves us.
“It’s a good sign of continuity. They’ve gone for the attacking style which is what the players want, as a playing group we want to play attacking rugby. Lads are delighted, speaking to them, so going forward it should be good. I spoke to Bundee Aki and he seems very positive about it. He hasn’t worked with him but he has obviously spoken to his mates over there in the Chiefs and he is excited about it as well.”
Meanwhile Ireland’s summer Test with the USA was confirmed yesterday with the Eagles’ governing body and match promoters TLA announcing a June 10 date at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
The game, which precedes Ireland’s summer tour to Japan, will be played at the home of MLS franchise New York Red Bulls, which last March hosted an English Premiership fixture between Saracens and London Irish. Ireland last played the Eagles in Houston, Texas, in June 2013, winning the Test 15-12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
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