Scrumhalf taking and making the breaks
Due to his exploits with the Connacht and Ireland Under-20s in the last two years, good judges had already begun to earmark Kieran Marmion as a future international, and nothing about his stunning progress since has dispelled the notion.
Before the start of the season the 20-year-old scrumhalf had never played a senior game for Connacht and was entering his second season in their academy as, at best, the third-choice scrumhalf behind Frank Murphy and Paul O’Donoghue. With both injured, Marmion started their Pro 12 opener against Cardiff and this evening he maintains his record as the only Connacht player to start every game this season.
He could not have expected this. “No, definitely not. I was very lucky to get a chance at the start and just managed to keep playing since then really,” he says. With each game Marmion says he is learning and becoming more accustomed to the step up from the Irish Under-20s and Ulster Bank League with Corinthians, the more so from having Dan Parks outside him. “You couldn’t ask for anyone better playing next to you in your first season. He’s kind of a coach on the pitch.”
As Marmion’s reputation grew you suspected one of the other provinces might make a move for him but he was more than happy to pen his first two-year professional contract with Connacht. “I was always going to stay. They’ve looked after me well. There’s good things going on up here and they’re going to keep getting better.”
His paternal grandparents, Phil and Kitty, hail from Loughrea, and his father Michael, who played centre with Saracens, introduced him to the game when he was six. Born in Romford, Essex, his family moved to Wales when he was seven and though Marmion attended Kirkham Grammar School in Lancashire, where his parents worked, he describes himself Welsh-reared, albeit with a distinct desire to play for Ireland.
Through the Exiles, having played against the Connacht Under-18s, Marmion began training with the Irish Under-18s when he was 16, going on to represent Ireland at under-18s, 19s and 20s. While he was at Cardiff University, he was drafted into the Irish Under-20 squad for the Junior World Cup in 2011. His performances alerted Connacht Academy director Nigel Carolan.
Along with other indigenous young players breaking into Connacht’s senior squad (“there’s more to come,” says Marmion) their young scrumhalf made an impact in Connacht’s Under-20 interprovincial success.
His solo try as a replacement against Leinster at Donnybrook is worth a look on YouTube, Marmion taking one of his trademark quick taps on his 10-metre line, stepping three opponents in turn, beating a fourth with a dummy pass outside and then handing off a fifth to go on and score.
His loyalty to Connacht is re-enforced by the sense of debt he owes to Carolan, also their under-20 coach. “I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
At the start of this season he was merely “hoping to get in for one or two games”, not the first 12 on the bounce with more to come. He loves the buzz around the Heineken Cup, and his home debut was against Danny Care, who scored two blistering tries. “I looked up to him when I was younger. He’s someone you could learn from.”
Tonight he comes faces World Cup final scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili, orchestrator-in-chief of the Biarritz game. “We’re going to be busy trying to stop him. But it’s great to play against the likes of Yachvili.”
What particularly impresses about Marmion is his speed to the base and his composure there. Allied to his accurate pass, you often don’t notice him, and he has a real sniping threat, which he uses sparingly and intelligently. “I do like to run. It’s the favourite part of my game. I do like to make breaks.”
Eric Elwood describes him as “a good lad”, who works assiduously on his game, and has no doubts he can go all the way. “I definitely want to play for Ireland one day,” he says. “That’s a goal. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”