Kieran Marmion returns to boost Connacht for Cheetahs clash
Coach Andy Friend admits ‘huge challenge’ awaits province who have lost last two games
Kieran Marmion in training ahead of his return to action for Connacht. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Connacht v Cheetahs
The first sighting of a kitted out Kieran Marmion since last year will draw the interest of more than Connacht fans today in Galway. Marmion started for Ireland last November in their 16-9 win over the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium and lasted 59 minutes before being replaced by Luke McGrath.
The 26-year-old had been an injury doubt for the New Zealand Test, after limping off with an ankle problem during Ireland’s 28-17 win over Argentina. But the All Black match was to be the last for the scrumhalf with his ankle requiring surgery, which had ruled him out for Connacht and Ireland until now.
His return to the bench will bring more pressure into Joe Schmidt’s Irish squad with John Cooney the most recent deputy scrumhalf to an out of sorts Conor Murray with Leinster’s Luke McGrath also unavailable due to injury. Cooney received little game time in Ireland’s opening two matches against England and Scotland but managed a late try in the defeat to Eddie Jones’s side.
In addition four players who were included in Ireland’s Six Nations squad and who need game time are also available to coach Andy Friend. Ultan Dillane, who was enterprising off the bench against Scotland, Caolin Blade, Jack Carty and Tom Farrell have all been named in the starting team, which will be captained by number eight Jarrad Butler.
Beating the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before Christmas gives Connacht at least some bragging rights, although there will be a note of caution as the Irish side have suffered back-to-back defeats to Munster and Cardiff and see the South African team as possible contenders.
“They are a really hard team to play against and even trying to review them can be difficult,” said Friend. “They seem to play so off the cuff that it can be difficult to predict what they are going to do next. We know the threat they pose in attack so we will face a huge challenge.”
Connacht: D Leader; C Kelleher, T Farrell, T Daly, S Fitzgerald; J Carty C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Cannon, E McKeon, C Fainga’a, J Butler (Capt). Replacements: D Heffernan, P McCabe, D Robertson-McCoy, C Gallagher, P Boyle, K Marmion, C Fitzgerald, K Godwin
Cheetahs: L Fouche; W Smal-Smith, D Swanpoel, N Lee, R Maxwane; T Shoeman, S Venter; C Marais, M van der Merwe, A Coetzee, J Wiese, J P du Preez, A Nonkontwana, J Pokmela, G Olivier. Replacements - R Venter, O Niche, L de Bruin, S Manjezi, W Steenkamp, H Venter, Tian Meyer, R Paige.
Referee: N Owens (WRU)
Verdict: Home win