Kieran Marmion sends reminder to Andy Farrell as two young guns front up
Some needless niggle from the Connacht scrum-half, but nice to see that fire.
Kieran Marmion has only played once for Andy Farrell, since he took over as Ireland head coach, but he is showing signs of the player that Joe Schmidt relied on for a stretch.
Connacht defeated Munster at Thomond Park, on Friday, for the first time since their league-winning season of 2015/16. Just as it looked like Munster were in a prime position to claim some silverware - after their wins over Leinster and Ulster - a slip at home opens up the 'North' side of The Rainbow Cup.
Munster head coach Johann van Graan put out the likes of Damian De Allende, CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony, but he left another few big guns on the bench. In the end, he needed them all but they could not get back from falling behind 24-14, early in the second half.
Marmion has not had the easiest of times since 2019. Up until August of that year, he was on track for his first World Cup. Having started November 2018 victories over Argentina and New Zealand, he was the man Schmidt often went to. The pecking order was Conor Murray and Marmion.
Schmidt surprised many of us, then, when he jettisoned Marmion and Devin Toner from his final squad before Ireland's middling World Cup in Japan. The 29-year-old may have hoped to prove a point, once Schmidt departed, but injuries and patchy form arrived and he drifted out of frame. His only Ireland appearance since August 2019 was off the bench in a 2020 Nations Cup win over Georgia.
With Murray heading to South Africa with the Lions, this summer, battle will resume for the Ireland No.9 jersey. Right now, one would imagine Craig Casey and Luke McGrath would be best placed for those July games against the USA and Japan, but Marmion delivered a timely reminder of what he can bring to the party, delivering a high-tempo performance that included two line breaks and the match-winning try.
There was even some Marmion attitude, when he dotted down and took offence to Ben Healy's late attempt to unsettle him. He hopped up and dropped the ball on the Munster outhalf before giving out some verbals and sparking a mini flare-up [from 2:20 below].
It was not altogether necessary, but it was harmless enough and good, in one regard, to see Marmion's fire has not gone out. He would have felt he had a point to prove against Casey, his opposite number, and he certainly did that.
Farrell will take note of that outing, and the performances of young Connacht forwards Can Prendergast and Niall Murray, who received the Man of the Match accolade after his side's 24-20 win.
Cian Prendergast: 25 (!) tackles made, 0 missed.
Niall Murray: 20 tackles made, 1 missed.
Both still just 21 years old. The future’s bright with these two 💪💪 pic.twitter.com/kBETRzcAsz
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) May 15, 2021
Both forwards are only 21, and already know what it takes to travel to Thomond Park and get a victory. Andy Friend and the Connacht supporters will take great encouragement from the displays of the two young bucks.
In the other Rainbow Cup inter-pro tie, on Friday, Leinster defeated Ulster for a third time this season. It was a close-run affair but second-half tries from 2021 Lions Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw saw them pull away before Craig Gilroy got over for a late, consolation try that saw Ulster leave with a losing bonus point.
With confirmation, on Friday, that The Rainbow Cup will have a 'North' vs. 'South' final to decide an overall winner, some purpose and lustre was added to a competition that has had more changes than anyone could care to remember.