Rory Best backs Kieran Marmion to take his chance as Ireland scrum-half is thrown in at the deep end vs England

Connacht scrum-half replaces the injured Conor Murray to make his first Six Nations start

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Ireland captain Rory Best has backed Kieran Marmion to fill the massive void left by the absence of British and Irish Lions scrum-half Conor Murray, even though he will make his debut Six Nations start in the pressure cauldron that is a Grand Slam decider against England.

The 25-year-old Connacht half-back could, under different circumstances, been lining up for England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, yet he will make his first full appearance in an attempt to prevent the red rose from winning a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam.

In fact, Marmion could have also faced Ireland last weekend, such has been his much-travelled childhood that has led him to the biggest game of his career so far. Born in Barking, England, to Irish parents, Marmion moved to Brecon in Wales at a young age where he went to school, before heading to the Emerald Isle to join Connacht after being taken into the Irish Exiles programme, the system responsible for developing overseas talent into Irish internationals.  

But it would be that Ireland already had his heart, as Marmion rose through the youth ranks, the Ireland Wolfhounds and, in the 2014 autumn internationals, a first senior cap. However, playing second fiddle to a “world class” No 9 like Murray, as Best put it, means opportunities to impress are rare, and just one start has come since that debut in the victory over Canada last November.

Rather than try to take the emotion out of the game, Best appears to be encouraging Marmion to embrace it, and he chose not to play down just how big a challenge this test is for the man who, last season, helped Connacht to their first ever Pro12 title.

“It is a massive day for him,” Best acknowledged. “You just have to look at the way he’s performing, not just last season, but this season for Connacht. It is something he deserves.

“He is very unlucky he is behind a real world-class nine. It is his day. We always talk that you get your opportunity along the line through someone else’s misfortune. His opportunity has come now.”

Now here’s the difference between the Ireland captain and his counterpart, Dylan Hartley. The England skipper, along with his senior leaders, have spoken to the younger players that may not understand what will face them inside the Aviva Stadium. Best, on the other hand, appears less interested in discussing the past, and instead wants player like Marmion to keep doing what has got them into the Test side this week.

“Sometimes you keep looking too back too much,” Best said. “2011 you mention, I'm sure they're probably looking at four years ago and we could look at two years ago, you keep going back and forward to various results, both sides could pick a game that will suit them in terms of the way the result and the performance went. For us, we've prepared well this week.”

Turning his attention back to Marmion, Best admitted that it’s his duty, along with the other seven forwards that join him in the pack, to get Ireland on the front foot and ensure that the scrum-half is put under as little pressure as possible.

“I am pretty sure the half-backs will want the pack going forward. They will want quality ball. We need to produce that,” he added. “We know Johnny [Sexton] can play, ideally off front foot ball. Johnny can play off anything.

“For Kieran in his first start in the Six Nations, it is important we give him a big armchair ride because it will make the job easier. Having said that, we’ve seen him play for Connacht off anything. We have a lot of confidence in his ability.”

That was Best’s final message to the newest recruit of the Irish starting XV, an injection of confidence that he is free to play his natural game, despite the obvious dangers of the world’s second best side – according to the world rankings – targeting him and his inexperience, given how well he coped against Wales a week ago.

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Marmion displayed his talents in the defeat by Wales (Getty)

“Just to see him step up and do it at the next levels is reassuring,” Best said of his performance last week. “We’ve seen him perform on the wing in the autumn. It is nice to see him in his usual position at scrum-half.

“That’s why you build a squad. That’s why you have players there. He’s performing well in training this week. He performed well last week. We have no doubt he will perform well.”

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