Kieran Marmion back in mix for Connacht against Cheetahs

Scrumhalf recovers from ankle surgery to play for first time since beating the All Blacks

 

Connacht have welcomed the return of Irish international Kieran Marmion, who missed the start of the Six Nations due to an ankle injury.

Scrumhalf Marmion was back training with Connacht this week after recovering from surgery, and he is set to play for the western province against the Cheetahs on Saturday. It will be his first outing since starting against the All Blacks in Ireland’s November win, after which he underwent surgery on an ankle ligament.

His presence is a “real plus” for Andy Friend’s squad, which will also be further boosted by returning Ireland squad members Ultan Dillane, Caolan Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell as the Pro14 resumes after its two-week hiatus.

“Great to have those four coming back into the squad,” said Friend. “All four have enjoyed their experience with Ireland. It has allowed them to grow in the way they think about the game and they are itching to get out and play.”

However, Friend will be missing internationals Bundee Aki and Quinn Roux, who was brought straight into last weekend’s starting team against Scotland.

“Quinn is quality rugby player, and hopefully he hasn’t been reading the critics,” said Friend. “Everybody has an opinion and everyone is entitled to that, but my message to the players is ‘don’t go chasing someone else’s opinion’, we will tell you as coaches.

‘Call accurate lineouts’

“He is going out there and doing what he has always done in my eyes. He’s brilliant at the lineout – his ability to call accurate lineouts is impressive, and his physicality and workrate around the park is outstanding, and that is what you saw if you watched him closely – so I’m not surprised at all he had that performance for his country.”

Friend also expects Marmion to be back in the Ireland mix.

“His last time running out was with Ireland against the All Blacks in a historic win, so you would think he will certainly be on the radar [for Ireland].”

On Saturday the 27-year-old scrumhalf will re-form his halfback partnership with Jack Carty, in what Friend says is the start of a block of key games for Connacht.

“They are all important games now. We have 13 games of football left, if we are playing all games left in the competitions. So there are not a lot of games of football, but you have to win them to stay involved.”

Conference A

Connacht, currently fourth in Conference A, are level on points with Ospreys in third, and just two ahead of both Cardiff and the Cheetahs.

“Our pool is highly congested, so a loss for any of those teams can see you drop from third or fourth to sixth spot, but the beauty is we get to play all those teams around us, so our destiny is in our own hands.”

More good news for Connacht is a two-year contract extension for prop Denis Buckley.

“He is a Connacht man, with 150 caps-plus, and he’s a just a rock in that scrum,” says Friend. “You know when Denis is there at loosehead, you have stability. He does that, but around the field, he is one of the most energetic props in the competition.”

Friend says although the bulk of next season’s recruitment and retention is complete, there will be a few more signings to announce, including replacements for Worcester-bound prop Conor Carey, and Cian Kelleher.

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