Marmion to feature for Connacht against Munster

Connacht scrumhalf is back and raring to go for Friend's squad

 Connacht will be looking to Beibhinn Parsons in attack after the winger scored three tries against Munster.

Connacht will be looking to Beibhinn Parsons in attack after the winger scored three tries against Munster.

Connacht Rugby's head coach Andy Friend says he was "gutted" scrumhalf Kieran Marmion missed out on making the final 31 of Joe Schmidt's World Cup squad.

While teammates Bundee Aki and Jack Carty flew to Japan last Wednesday, Marmion was given the week off before returning to the Sportsground yesterday, and Friend says it is important Connacht rally behind their player who has twice missed out playing in a World Cup.

"We are here to support him and it's good to have him back," Friend says. "The most important thing is the care for the person. I said, 'I'm guttered for you, mate, I'm really really disappointed for you. I said it must have been a tough conversation for you, and he said it was'.

"As we know, he missed out on the last World Cup and he has worked so hard. He has been a brilliant competitor for Connacht and for Ireland over the last four years, but you come to this stage and there has to be decisions, and it didn't fall his way.

"It was important for me to get across to Kieran that, 'I feel for you, can I help you, and can we help you? We will support you in any way because you are important to us'. We are here to support him and it's good to have him back."

Friend believes Connacht's trio of Marmion, Jack Carty and Bundee Aki were "outstanding" in the warm-up matches.

"I thought Kieran played very well. I thought his performance when he came on against Italy was very, very good, he got a charge down, and gave real energy to the side. I have green eyes now, but I call it as it see it, and if I didn't think they played well, I would say it. I know for Joe and the other selectors, there are tough calls. I make them every Tuesday, but you can only fit what you can fit on a team sheet, and they can only fit 31, and it didn't go his way."

Friend says it is normal Marmion to feel some anger, and an element of frustration, but he has returned this week "busting to get involved".

"He's been brilliant. He has worked his way through that. He will continue to wake up one day and still be angry, probably for the rest of his life no doubt, but that is how much it means to these men. They have worked so hard to be there and when it doesn't fall their way, it's a tough pill to swallow."

Marmion will feature in Connacht's final warm-up fixture against Munster on Saturday before the start of this season's PRO14, and Friend is hoping his squad can capitalise during this World Cup period.

"We'd be one of the teams least disurpted, the South Africans are in the best positon there, but to have Jack and Bundee there, we are really proud of those blokes and pleased for them, and for the other men who missed out, we are disappointed for them, but we will use it to our advantage.

"I'd also imagine they will use it as a point to prove too. Everyone wants to play for their country and unfortunately only 31 players could go, and if you're on the wrong side of that, there will be frustration. There will be that desire to try to show that you probably should, in your mind, be there, and no doubt there will be a few players like that."

Marmion, along with prop Finlay Bealham and lock Ultan Dillane who were part of Joe Schmidt's original World Cup training squad, remain on standby in case of injuries in Japan. They are expected to feature in what Friend says is a strong squad to face Munster in the Sportsground on Saturday (3pm ).

After victories over Oyannax and Russia, Connacht, in only pre-season challenge at the Sportsground, will treat Saturday's fixture against Munster as another trial for some players.

"We are putting out a fairly strong squad. We've picked 25 players, Munster are coming with 28. It's still very much a trial, but Marmion will come off the bench for us.

"We've three other halfbacks here, Caolan Blade, Angus Lloyd and Stephen Kerins all working very hard, so Caolan will start and then we'll get Kieran off the bench." Academy outhalf Paul Dean, who made his senior debut in Thomond Park last season, is also likely to start.

Women's final

It is a big day for Connacht women who face Leinster in the 2019 Women's Interprovincial Championship final at Energia Park, Donnybrook (7pm ). It is the first year the interprovincial has been played with knock-out rounds.

Connacht are worthy finalists, having beaten Munster by 20-17 at St Mary's College in the semi-final, and they have a real chance of rattling champions Leinster on Saturday.

Earlier in the season they had suffered defeats to Leinster and Munster in the opening rounds, but they showed real grit to win away to Ulster two weeks ago before maintaining that momentum against Munster.

Coached by Brian McClearn, his first season in charge, Connacht have nothing to lose and much to gain when they face the favourites in Dublin.

Former Ireland star Alison Miller, who announced her retirement from international rugby, says the new format of knock-out rugby has suited the Connacht squad this season.

"We had girls playing at this level for the first time and girls playing interprovincial rugby for the first time, so it suited us to have those three games leading into the semi-final because we have been able to develop and put in practice what we wanted to do.

"We were very disappointed with the first two games, we showed good attacking rugby against Ulster, but but our defence wasn't what it should be, so we were happy to get the result [against Munster]."

New rising star Beibhinn Parsons, is fast becoming a key weapon in Connacht's attack.

The 17-years-old Ballinasloe player, who has already four Irish caps, scored a hat-trick against Munster to help them to victory.

"She is an out-and-out winger," says Millar. "I'm looking forward to her playing in the Six Nations, she is dangerous in open space and strong in contact."

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