Stand-in Marmion with much work to do as he targets the stand-out Murray
With the game in Rome done and dusted a long way from home, Kieran Marmion remained on the bench as Conor Murray visibly wilted.
Prudence dictates that Ireland will never admit that the Munster man's subsequent groin trouble may have been related to what seemed to be a needlessly extended tenure.
When two late tired box-kicks skewed off their intended path, it seemed counter-productive for him to remain on longer than was necessary. But he did so, not leaving until the 68th minute. Marmion's arrival, deep into trash time, allowed supporters to once again witness his ability to thrive in broken play against wounded, depleted opponents but also reminded us that he remains as far away as ever to challenging Murray's pre-eminence.
Aside from the captain - and even his injury forced a change this spring - Murray is arguably Ireland's most indispensable player, assuming even more control and authority as his side adjust to a life without the constant presence of Johnny Sexton outside him.
The little - albeit at 6' 2", not so little - general is the glue that holds this side together.
Marmion (right) has enough to do in order to stave off the challenges to his squad berth from elsewhere; Luke McGrath suffered at the end of Leinster's European campaign but will emerge once more.
The Welsh-born sniper knows he must have Murray's jersey in his sights.
Getting his shot will, barring injury, be his most difficult challenge.
"I want to challenge him but at the moment I think he's probably the best in the world," Marmion says simply. Sometimes the bare facts must be spoken; not an admission of inhibition, but of reality.
"It's just his basics, he's so good at them and that's something I want to improve on to get closer to him. He's going really well at the moment so I have to keep trying as hard as I can to improve as much as I can to get as close to him as I can.
"You just have to work away at it. It's repetition. Obviously he's a lot bigger than me so he gets the leverage in his passing and his kicking, so I just have to be sharper and try and get my release on the ball quicker, and try and make sure the lads outside me have more time.
"Joe is always driving on to me about the basics of the game. I mean, when you step up to the Irish standard, players have a lot less time on the ball so it's just about making sure everyone's as sharp as possible." The unspoken assumption - laid bare by Murray's sustained excellence - is that Marmion is far from approaching a position whereby he can challenge for the starting jersey.
Speaking yesterday, assistant coach Richie Murphy appeared to confirm as much, indicating that, far from being a supplementary squad member, Marmion is merely a complementary addition, someone who blossoms best when a game is done and when bodies are weak of mind and body.
"They're very different types of scrum-halves," explains Murphy. "I think he's still got a way to go in terms of how we try to play.
"Kieran is a really good running scrum-half, a really big threat later on in the games.
"Where we're seeing him at the moment is that he could cause a lot of trouble when teams are starting to fatigue.
"Conor is probably a little more classic. He kicks well, passes well, he understands the game, he deals with the pressure very well and I still think he has a fair bit of an edge in relation to his passing and kicking game over Kieran at the moment."