33 OF IRELAND’S top rugby players returned to their provinces on Wednesday after a get together with Declan Kidney at Carton House.
Kieran Marmion and John Cooney did not make the trip and had to content themselves with respective training drills in Galway and Dublin downpours.
The two scrum-halves will pitch up at the Sportsground on Friday for a Pro12 league encounter that should set the tone for an important month ahead.
Connacht, with a second Heineken Cup campaign on the horizon, will be hoping to come out of interprovincial week with an improved league standing while Leinster will hope to get all their main stars fit and firing for upcoming tests against Munster and, in Europe, Exeter.
With a spate of injuries affecting both camps, it is entirely likely that Marmion and Cooney will be calling the shots from the scrum-half positions when the Heineken Cup gets underway in mid-October.
22-year-old Cooney made his senior Leinster debut in September 2011 and featured three times at the beginning of the season. He returned for spring assignments against Italian opponents but was a shock inclusion in the team’s match-day 22 for the Heineken Cup Final.
He replaced Eoin Reddan in the final six minutes but still found time to play a crucial roll in Heineke van der Merwe’s breakaway try.
With Isaac Boss out for at least two months and Reddan being eased back then injured, Cooney has stepped in at scrum-half and kept his side ticking over.
Marmion’s promotion, this season, to the starting line-up out west is welcome but no less surprising.
With Frank Murphy succumbing to a cruciate ligament injury, Marmion looks set to be given an extended run in the team.
Kieran Marmion (right) gives Miah Nikora some kicking assistance. (©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)
Having played a key role in Ireland’s Junior World Cup campaign in South Africa during the summer, the 20-year-old made pre-season appearances against Exeter and Harlequins.
He has started all four of Connacht’s league games, including the 30-17 away win over Zebre in Italy.
Leinster coach Guy Easterby, who was capped 28 times at scrum-half for Ireland, expects the young nines to rise to the interprovincial occasion on Friday. He told TheScore.ie:
John is on a learning curve and he is getting the chance for a bit of game time, which is always important. Whether players are talented or not it takes them time to get into a bit of rhythm, especially at nine.
“You are charged with running the game, along with a couple of others. These (matches) have been really important for his development.
“He is certainly heading in the right direction.”
He acknowledges that the Blues pack will be looking to gain the advantage and pressurise Marmion but feels Connacht’s plans will not differ too much.
“We are in a similar situation (with scrum-halves) ourself as we have Bossy out and Eoin is struggling with his leg injury as well.
“They might be looking at us to do the same thing. It happens in every match – if you can get to their nine then it puts pressure on their gameplan.”