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Luke Marshall urging Ulster to add to famous away triumphs

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 19/12/2015

Striding ahead: Luke Marshall is enjoying his run of matches after an injury affected his gametime last season
Striding ahead: Luke Marshall is enjoying his run of matches after an injury affected his gametime last season

Ulster's Luke Marshall insists that victory over Toulouse at the Stade Ernest Wallon tomorrow (1pm kick-off) would rival any of the province's recent away-day successes.

Les Kiss' side put the disappointment of November's comprehensive home defeat to Saracens firmly behind them with their stunning 38-0 win over the four-time European champions at the Kingspan Stadium last weekend, and another victory would significantly boost their hopes of booking a quarter-final spot when the pool stage concludes next month.

With Ulster's wretched record in France having been redressed by triumphs over Castres and Montpellier in recent years, Marshall says that a win tomorrow would rival either of those triumphs.

"That win in Montpellier was very special," he said.

"It was another one of those memorable games and a good result that day so hopefully we can produce something similar. I'd say it would be close to it.

"To beat a team like Toulouse with their current home record this season, being unbeaten in all competitions, would definitely be right up there."

This is the 11th time an Irish side have travelled to Toulouse, and only Leinster in 2006 and Connacht in 2013 returned victorious, but Ulster make the trip with real confidence having dismantled the Top 14 high-fliers just eight days ago.

Marshall, however, has warned that he and his teammates are braced for a fighting response.

"They're in a pretty similar position to where we were after Saracens," he said. "We were hurting a lot and had to produce a big performance for the crowd and ourselves.

"They're in that same position and they're really going to want to put it right. We've just got to front up and take everything that comes our way.

"Last time out was definitely a great result and a very special night but it means nothing if we don't back it up this weekend.

"For us to qualify we probably need to win every game left so we've got to put it to bed and keep our feet on the ground. If we beat Toulouse it puts us in a very good spot."

The 24-year-old endured a frustrating season last year with injury and concussion before missing six weeks in the autumn following surgery on his right thumb but was integral to the win last week.

Offering his best performance in an Ulster shirt for some time, he capped the outing with the province's third try that ended any remote hopes of a Toulouse fight back.

With Darren Cave and Jared Payne sidelined, Marshall is relishing the opportunity for consistent starts in Kiss' midfield.

"It's just nice to get a run of games," he said. "Last season was disappointing with having to watch big games from the sidelines and the stands so it's nice to be involved in them again.

"In these European games you want to play well and with me not playing particularly well last season and the injuries I was under pressure to produce.

"I'm happy with the way it's going at the minute and hopefully I'll keep on playing well and we'll see what happens."

The Ballymena Academy product's understanding with Stuart McCloskey at 12 and out-half Paddy Jackson was a real plus from last week's performance and a repeat would have Ulster well positioned this weekend.

With McCloskey continuing to draw more and more attention, Marshall's move to outside centre is affording him increased space while the ability to interchange with Jackson at No.10 offers variation in the team's attack.

"It went well but it was one of those nights where everything clicked right across the park," he reflected on the backline's showing.

"I'm enjoying playing with Stu. He's a big unit and takes a fair bit of attention off me and opens a bit of space in the wider channels.

"Myself and Paddy have played under-age together and we've switched in and out of 10 and sometimes he would go into 12.

"I enjoy being first receiver, it takes the pressure off Paddy and means he can scan around."

Marshall's score, however, his second of the season after also crossing in the opening win against Ospreys, came after a lengthy spell spent on the wing.

Gathering a sublime cross-field kick off the unfavoured left foot of Ruan Pienaar, he admits to thinking the ball wasn't going to come his way.

"I was pretty surprised as I was shouting but no-one seemed to hear," he laughed.

"It was a pretty impressive bit of skill to pick that out off his left foot. I didn't really have to move for it at all and I actually lost it in the floodlights before I got it. It was exceptional from him."

One of five times Ulster crossed the whitewash, the game provided Ulster's finest attacking display of the season and Marshall warned that Ulster must maintain that intent even in the intimidating atmosphere of Toulouse's home patch.

"There is the temptation that going over there we might play within ourselves but we did work well when playing expansive rugby so we'll try and do the same," he said. "We know they'll be a different team. They didn't do themselves justice and we can expect a bit more.

"In the backline the majority of us like to throw the ball around and we did that well at the weekend. When things click it is very enjoyable.

"We just need more of the same, to go out and play the same way."

After the success of last weekend, more of the same would suit Ulster just fine.

Belfast Telegraph

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