Marmion remains intent on nailing down Irish jersey

Raring to go after suffering a hip knock in the opening Pro 12 fixture, Connacht Rugby's Kieran Marmion is now firmly focused on making a statement against Cardiff when the league resumes next week.

The Ireland squad member, who missed out on World Cup duty, says the squad is fully refreshed after the two-week break and now needs to get a vital win over Cardiff who visit the Sportsground next weekend.

"This is a huge game for us. Cardiff was one of a few games last season that was there to win and we only had ourselves to blame. They are always difficult,  so to get four or five points from them next week would be huge in terms of the league and our season."

Having spent 10 weeks of his summer with Joe Schmidt's Ireland side, Marmion has been forced to watch the World Cup from the sofa, and although "more relaxing", the 23-year-old is intent on nailing down his place this season.

"The lads ahead of me are good players, experienced, and have been around the game for a long time, and I am still learning from those guys. It was good be around them and I am trying to close the gap, taking on board what they have and trying to bring it to my game.

"I want to be there as soon as possible, I don't want to leave it a few years. I want to kick on now and hopefully this season put my name forward and nail down the spot."

Having come on against Wales to earn his fourth cap in the World Cup warm-up games, Marmion's return to Connacht was cut short by injury in the opening Pro 12 fixture.

"I was really disappointed. After the most intensive nine or 10 weeks training at a higher level,  I had been so looking forward to kicking on and putting all that training into playing.  However with the break from action, I am now fully fit and feeling fresh."

While the league is Marmion's top priority next week, Connacht are also preparing for what is an historic first European fixture in Russia.  With their new BLK European jersey revealed yesterday, described by Marmion as "definitely different and a bit more out there", Connacht will be travelling to Siberia to face Enisei STM in the first round of the Challenge Cup on November 11.

Although Connacht have played the Russian side on several occasions in Ireland, Marmion says the squad is not taking the Krasnoyarsk outfit for granted.

"It's certainly something different - and definitely chilly - and I don't think many or any of us would have been in Siberia before.  We have spoken about it and the preparation that will be required for the 12 or 14 hour journey. It's not ideal and not something we are used to, so it is going to be a challenge, both mentally and physically.

"We want to get into the Champions Cup, so we want to win the Challenge Cup. It's a huge season for us in terms of showing how much we have progressed from last season.   There are a lot of young lads in the squad, but they are lads with as many as 30 caps under their belts - you don't have to be old to be experienced, you just need game time, and we are stronger going forward this year."

Marmion says this season is hugely important for the province.

" We don't want to be going every year saying we were so close to achieving Champions Cup rugby. Were almost there last season, so this year we have to stand up and show we are capable of mixing it with the big teams in Europe. It's not just what happens on the pitch, it's about the branch and the supporters, and we want to give something back.  They deserve it too."

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