'People from the outside are looking at us more seriously'
Provincial and international honours still up for grabs for Connacht's dangerous scrum-half
Kieran Marmion didn't get as much of a look-in as he might have liked during the Six Nations. But the Connacht scrum-half should play a much bigger role for Joe Schmidt's Ireland side this summer.
Ireland tour South Africa in June, and after last weekend's exploits and try versus Leinster, Kieran Marmion is in pole position to target Conor Murray's grip on the Ireland No 9 jersey and add to his five caps.
Winning teams get noticed, and Connacht are the talk of Irish rugby at the moment, with their wondrous 2015-'16 campaign set to take them to unprecedented heights in the coming months.
It gives the 23-year-old, who grew up in Wales, ample opportunity to stake his claim. With 97 Connacht appearances under his belt, the next number of involvements are likely to be his most crucial.
His 17th try gifted Connacht a priceless home win against Leinster last weekend, but despite beating the side placed second in the Pro12, the league leaders cannot rest on their laurels. Marmion and co will continue to ramp up the pressure this evening against Ulster, as they seek silverware for the first time in the province's history.
"In terms of the league, and where we are in the season, it was one of the biggest wins we have had. There is a bit of pressure on us to perform and get a result. We did that well and it was great to do that.
"We have been in that situation, at the end, a few times this year. Most times, apart from the Scarlets game, we have managed to hold on and grind out the win. It's something that we've practised a good bit in training and we put it into the game.
"Our next four games in the Pro12, they are all Champions Cup teams, and it is a great opportunity to test ourselves, and where we are at. We want to be up there with the best."
It won't be easy for one of the league's smallest squads, although adversity seems to drive them on to bigger and better things in every game. With seven victories on the bounce Connacht continue to defy the odds and Marmion is excited but realistic about what lies ahead.
"In the big games you are going to have a few injuries there, and a few knocks for the lads. Again when anyone has got injured another lad has stepped up and it hasn't made that much of a difference. There is confidence within the whole squad that lads can step up and do a job.
"I'm happy enough with how it went for me last weekend. There are always parts of the game I try and look back to improve on. I focus a lot on individual skill work that we do here, and put it into practice in the game.
"The way we play, we have certain systems. It's not just about getting the ball away from the ruck as quick as you can. There's different things that we do differently to other teams in different situations. We do like to play off quick ball, but if it's not quick there is a certain system we like to put in place.
"Right now I am trying to improve my basics. If I improve those parts of my game that helps with other aspects. That builds confidence within my game," he says.
With his team on the up, Marmion is cognisant of the fact that Joe Schmidt is watching on and more and more Connacht players are likely to be involved in the tour this summer.
The Pro12 and Challenge Cup take priority until the provincial season ends, and Marmion says the Connacht players are giving themselves the best possible opportunity by sticking to the Connacht way.
"People from outside are looking at us more seriously now. To be getting those kind of performances where we are in the table is obviously a reflection of how lads are playing. If that continues hopefully more lads will get selected and be involved in the Irish team.
"There's lads performing, we have shown in that Leinster game there are lads who are up to that standard. There are lads who are able to perform in the big games like that. Myself and other lads need to do that week in, week out for upcoming inter-pro games to put the hands up.
"With five of us involved in that Italy game, it hopefully gives everyone more confidence. You are playing with lads that you play with every week. You have that confidence of knowing how they play. That helps you around lads that you don't play with so often as well.
"We know how much work we put in here at the Sportsground to improve each other. It's obviously great to see that rewarded and five of us being able to play together for Ireland was a great occasion."
But as the rugby season reaches its business end Marmion still assumes his responsibilities off the pitch. And he believes education is vital tool to keep him focused.
"I am doing a Setanta College online course at the moment, a few of the lads do that. That's an online course in Strength and Conditioning.
"I just have done my first year. It's good, it's challenging, a bit different to the rugby, but it's good to get away and do that kind of thing.
"It has been difficult to fit things in over the Six Nations. A lot of your spare time is spent trying to study plays and stuff. I have managed to just about get it in.
"It's more about being motivated to do it when you are a bit tired. But it's good to do something like that."