Interview: Kieran Marmion asserts Irish ambitions ahead of 'huge 12 months'
Connacht scrum-half says Edinburgh at home is the biggest game of the season after rousing Munster win
Kieran Marmion is pressing hard for selection in Joe Schmidt's Six Nations squad later this month, but insists his present focus is on securing Connacht's best ever league finish.
Pat Lam's men began the season with a top six finish as the agreed goal within the squad. The westerners currently lie sixth but are a mere eight points off the Guinness PRO12 summit. Victories over Leinster, Scarlets and Munster, allied to a solid Challenge Cup campaign, have already made it a season to remember but Marmion is eager for more success.
He told us, 'We were delighted to get the win over Munster and hopefully we can push on from there. Every team competing in the league wants a top four finish and a chance to win it. There is no reason to think we can't achieve that.
'The Edinburgh game (on Friday) is huge for our season; bigger than the Munster game. They are our rivals midtable so we're looking to put some distance between us. All of the top four sides lost at the weekend so that shows you how competitive the league is.'
Marmion adds, 'It would be pointless to achieve all this only to let it slip in the second half of the season.'
Marmion scored in the Sportsground triumphs over Leinster and Munster and now has four tries for the season. 'A lot of the credit for that (Munster) score must go to Craig Ronaldson for his chip and to Robbie Henshaw for his burst and for timing his pass so well,' he says.
Marmion spent his early years in London - his father, Mick, played centre for Saracens - before moving to Wales at the age of seven. He played with the Irish age grades and came to Connacht's attention after he was recommended to the club by team-mate Jack Carty. He travelled to Galway for a summer trial and was promptly offered a development deal.
2013/14 saw him take greater responsibility dictating attacks and making snipes. He has to added that again, and a greater physicality, this season. He credits Nigel Carolan (Connacht Academy director and now Ireland U20 coach) for his early development before listing off every member of the province's backroom staff to share in credit for his rise. Due to turn 23 in February, the scrum-half has already amassed 68 Connacht caps and three senior appearances with Ireland.
Joe Schmidt will name his extended Six Nations and Wolfhounds squad in late January and Marmion's name will certainly feature. He was up at Carton House for a two-day (one night) camp in December and has impressed the national coaches. 'It is a huge year,' he says, 'but I am trying to focus on each game and take it week to week.
'Eoin (Reddan) and Conor (Murray) have been a great help to me. They have given me information and feedback on plays and are always there if I have any questions. The coaches are readily available too if you have any questions or are unsure about something. They are really hot on senior players knowing their role. They don't accept any excuses if you don't have your role and responsibilities down.
'I'm learning all the time and being with the Ireland squad for the past year has already taken my game on so much. The next few months are exciting but my focus, for now, is helping Connacht climb the league table.'