One of Connacht’s biggest breakthrough talents of the past two seasons, Kieran Marmion was last week named as the only uncapped back in Joe Schmidt’s 30-man Ireland squad for the summer tour to Argentina.
Scrum half Kieran Marmion is the second youngest player in the travelling squad at 22 – Six Nations winner Iain Henderson beats him by just 10 days – and one of four yet to be capped at this level.
It did not come as a surprise to many when Marmion’s name was included on Joe Schmidt’s roll call, but Connacht’s top try scorer this season was understandably thrilled to get the nod.
“Yeah, it was great to be called up. I was unsure as to where I’d be going this summer and Argentina was obviously where I wanted to be so it’s fantastic,” said Connacht’s Back of the Year who has played an incredible 56 consecutive games for the province since his senior debut in September 2012.
“It’s been a pretty hectic year and it can start to take its toll at times, but Pat (Lam) has been very good in giving me extra time to recover in between games. I’ve obviously been very lucky not to get injured as well.”
This is Marmion’s second summer tour with the Irish squad after he travelled to North America twelve months ago.
He returned home to Ireland as the only uncapped player in a 28-man squad that saw five other players make their international bows, but the Connacht Academy graduate feels he has progressed even further since then.
“Obviously last year it was very disappointing not to get any game-time but I feel this year that I have had even more time to learn.
“Joe (Schmidt) has been down to Connacht a good few times over the season and like he does with everyone, he has given me areas of my game to work on.
“Hopefully now I can show that I have taken it all on board and am ready to step up. The main thing is to keep working and trying to improve all the time and hopefully it will stand to you in a tour like this.”
The Ireland squad took part in a two-day training camp in Dublin last week and Marmion says it was ‘a busy two days’.
“A few of the lads had just played a game so the first day was just about doing a walk through. The second day we trained in the Aviva (Stadium) and that was a lot more live and quite intense at times, but it felt great to get a run-out.
“The main focus of the two days was getting to know the players around you as well as the different plays we’ll be looking at…getting to grips with what we want to get out of this tour was also important.”
The Connacht Players’ Player of the Year, who recently signed a two-year extension with the westerners, was making full use of the Sportsground facilities in Galway on Tuesday in a bid to hit the ground running in Argentina.
“It’s less than a week before we go so I’m just trying to get a bit of extra training and gym work in where I can.
“Robbie (Henshaw) is up here too and the boys heading off to Romania on the Emerging Ireland tour so we’ve a programme in place with our strength & conditioning instructor Jim Molony.”
With two other scrum halves in Eoin Reddan and Conor Murray traveling to South America, Marmion is benefiting from an abundance of experience around him.
“Eoin and Conor have obviously been in and around the Ireland team for a long time now and I can take a lot from their experiences. I’m definitely learning from them both. They’ve been really good to me in training and helped me out by talking me through different things on the field.”
While Argentina named a squad of mainly domestic-based players, the Ireland management team are still expecting two tough Test matches against a team that have had quite a lot of game-time together.
If selected, Marmion could come up against Argentina’s home-based scrum half Martin Landajo who has played 27 times for the Pumas but the Connacht number 9 will be focusing on the task at hand.
“We haven’t been able to do that much detailed analysis on the Argentina side as we didn’t know who they were going to select in their squad with so many of their frontline players playing abroad,” he admitted.
“At the moment, we’re just concentrating on ourselves and what we have to do. It’s a fairly short tour so there won’t be an overload of training. Our preparation off the pitch will be just as important as what we do on it.
“Personally, I obviously hope to get my chance to play and if I do, I want to perform well and show what I can do.”
Marmion has certainly impressed the Ireland coaches enough to be selected, with Schmidt stating: “I think Kieran has done a super job again this year, his resilience is amazing, his ability to defend behind the line.
“He has worked hard on his kicking and passing game and merits having an opportunity at national level.”
The Ireland squad will depart for Argentina this coming Sunday, the day after the RaboDirect PRO12 final and Marmion is looking forward to playing rugby in some different surroundings.
“I’ve never been to that part of the world before but it will be a fairly short tour so not much time for exploring. I’ll be coming straight back home for a break which I’m looking forward to.”