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Ulster Rugby: Fired-up Paul Marshall determined to seize chance to banish his away day blues

By Michael Sadlier

Last Saturday he looked like a man with a point to prove.

Just two minutes in and Paul Marshall took a tap penalty near the Oyonnax line and was off on one of his trademark runs with the outcome being Ulster's first of eight tries courtesy of Rob Herring.

Ulster's agenda had always been to run up a huge score from their final European pool game but Marshall was clearly intent on stamping his mark.

After all, Ruan Pienaar's illness had unexpectedly opened the door for him to get back in the No.9 shirt just 13 days after what had occurred when the same teams had met in France.

Back then, on the Stade Charles Mathon's artificial surface, Ulster stumbled through a shambolic opening half which ended up with them trailing 23-0 and resulted in Marshall being removed at half-time, along with fellow half-back Ian Humphreys and second row Lewis Stevenson, who this week left for Exeter.

Marshall now brushes it off as one of those things, but getting the shepherd's crook after just 40 minutes must have cut the long-serving 30-year-old to the quick.

"It was massively frustrating as the team didn't perform and changes had to be made," he said diplomatically though, in reality, it was the team in general which succumbed to an unrecoverable-looking systems crash.

"It was disappointing for the likes of Ian and myself because we had been busting to get a game for a while and it was just unfortunate we played in a half where we (the team) were second best across the board.

"I don't think it was necessarily my fault, or Ian's fault, or anybody's fault that we came off at half-time.

"We just weren't functioning well as a team and when you have certain guys on the bench you're going to bring them on when you're 23-0 down."

Those 'certain guys' were Pienaar and Paddy Jackson and with them installed at half-back, and the rest of the team refocused on the job at hand, Ulster scored 24 unanswered points to win which also wouldn't have helped how Marshall was feeling.

Hence his all-action performance last Saturday with an assist also helping put Sean Reidy over for the bonus point score just before the break. After all that had happened in France, Marshall just had to make his point and did so with force.

Now, with Pienaar not fully recovered from his illness, Marshall is in line to go again today when Ulster return to PRO12 duties at Treviso with the league now being the province's only chance of silverware this season, a mere decade after their last success.

It's the start of a six-game segment for Les Kiss' squad and one from which they must - with players away on Six Nations duties - deliver something of substance to improve on their current sixth place.

"We want to start the game like we did last week and get ourselves on the front-foot," Marshall, who, even though Treviso are rooted to the bottom of the league and without a victory for nearly a year, knows only too well that Ulster have had to dig deep to win on the several recent occasions when they have visited the Italians, stated ahead of his 10th start of the season.

"But it's going to be a tough game over there."

He will make his 164 appearance for Ulster today and clearly wants no repeat of what happened for his last start away from home - yes, at Oyonnax - or, indeed, yet more stuttering league displays from the squad when away from the Kingspan.

"Obviously complacency can come back and bite you on the backside," he stated with conviction at the dangers of Ulster - now without their Ireland front-liners - under-estimating the down at heel Italians.

"As we learned a few weeks ago in the Oyonnax away game, if you don't turn up as a team and dictate the play you are on the back-foot and then you're in trouble."

And more struggles are the last thing Marshall and co need now as they begin what they hope will be a successful drive to make the top four play-offs for the fifth time in six seasons.

"We want to win every game and now (the Six Nations window) is certainly a time that is crucial for us as we want to push up the table," he added.

"It's going to be a serious run-in for the next few months as (just about) everyone is going to be focused on lifting PRO12 silverware."

Connacht, in fact, are now the only one of the five sides currently above Ulster in the table still involved in European competition.

For now, though, Marshall has another of those chances to make a point.

Belfast Telegraph

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