Marmion learning good habits at Pat Lam’s flexible Connacht

FROM CRAIG RONALDSON’S clever chip to Robbie Henshaw’s catch, run and pass, there was much to like about Connacht’s first try against Munster on New Year’s Day.

Source: World Rugby/YouTube

Kieran Marmion was the man to finish it off, and the scrum-half is swift to transfer the praise elsewhere.

“We worked the maul at first and then going into that wind it was obviously going to be pretty hard to move the ball,” says the 22-year-old Ireland international.

“We decided to go for that little dink and credit’s got to go to Craig for the execution of that. It made the job easy for myself and Robbie.”

Ronaldson and Henshaw undoubtedly deserve commendation for their integral roles, but Marmion is downplaying the importance of his own actions. Having completed his pass to out-half Ronaldson, the England native took off on an excellent anticipatory line.

Even before Henshaw had gathered the ball, Marmion had begun his supporting run. This type of reading of the game is a hallmark of the world’s best scrum-halves, and a skill Marmion is striving to improve in his game.

“It’s something that I do a lot of work on in training,” says the Connacht academy graduate. “I think it’s about making it into a habit of trying to be on the end of passes. You see in games a lot of times where people could have been in different places and scored.

“Watching that, you’re trying to work ways to get on the end of moves and the chances the team are creating.”

Those are the kind of habits that Pat Lam and his coaching have been stressing to their players over the course of the past two seasons: every 1% individual gain goes towards making Connacht a better team.

There were more clear signs of their improvement in that victory over Munster, as Connacht confidently managed a 16-7 half-time deficit to win convincingly.

“I think going into the week we knew the weather wasn’t going to be too great,” says Marmion. “We were obviously pretty restricted in the first half in terms of what we could do. We’d planned for that wind and rain, it’s probably the worst out of all the stadiums we play in.

Marmion continues to improve under Lam at Connacht. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We tried to keep the ball and play it down in our half a bit, stay as close to them [on the scoreboard] as we could. We probably knew we wouldn’t go in at half time ahead of them, but as close as we could be would be great.

“We knew coming out after half time that that we had huge confidence we could close that gap and get ahead of them.”

That proved to be the case as Connacht scored two further tries to strengthen their position in the Pro12′s top six, but perhaps most impressive was the latest demonstration of their tactical flexibility.

At times free-flowing and daring in attack in the last 18 months, Lam’s side have also shown the ability to play with a game plan involving more focus on the narrow channels.

“I think from the time that I’ve been here, we’ve developed into a team that can play in more than one game plan,” agrees Marmion. “I think we can adapt pretty well and against different teams there are different opportunities, and the conditions play a part as well.

“It’s great for us going out there knowing that we can have the opportunities to beat these teams with different game plans.”

Marmion dives over for his try against Munster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The blueprint is likely to be somewhat changed again tomorrow evening, as Lam’s side welcome Edinburgh to the Sportsground [KO 19.35]. Whatever plans the Connacht head coach does have, Henshaw and midfield partner Bundee Aki will be important.

Both centres were excellent against Munster last time out, and showed glimpses of connection in their thought processes. Promising signs and exciting for Marmion and the rest of the group.

“I think they both stepped up in that game,” says Marmion. “We couldn’t move the ball around in that match because of the conditions, so they were both pretty direct. It was really effective.

Confidence continues to be boosted with every home win, as Marmion and his teammates remain focused on maintaining their ‘fortress’ status in Galway.

After the joy of inter-provincial success against Munster, this fixture against eighth-placed Edinburgh is a return to the bread and butter of their campaign to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup.

“It’s an important game in our season,” outlines Marmion, “probably more important than the Munster game. I think everyone’s pretty nailed on and focused on just getting a result and climbing up the table as much as we can.”

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