Despite having scored two tries in the course of his five-star performance against Castres, Ulster scrum half Paul Marshall looks like being Ruan Pienaar’s understudy this Friday night at Scotstoun where Glasgow Warriors await the Heineken Cup Pool Four leaders.
The hordes in the Ravenhill stands and on the terracing gave home-grown Marshall a thunderous ovation when he made way for South Africa’s Ruan Pienaar at the end of the third quarter last Friday night.
Tongue-in-cheek, the Methodist College old boy suggested the applause had been for his replacement’s arrival rather than his display.
In truth it was for both, for Ulster now are in the fortunate position of having two first-rate scrum halves. With a solitary vacancy, however, one on the pitch, the other on the bench is the reality.
When he and Pienaar (pictured) signed Ulster contract extensions on the same day last January, Marshall realised that probably meant he was committing himself to playing second fiddle in the big games until June 2014.
So in the aftermath of Friday night’s 41-17 victory, in which Pienaar came off the bench to score a last-gasp try, giving Ulster a vital bonus point, Marshall’s assessment was stoical.
The fact that his rival was named in the match-day 23 for the Heineken Cup opener, despite not having played for Ulster this season because he was away with South Africa for nine weeks, did not spoil Marshall’s view of the bigger picture.
“Obviously, from a squad point of view it’s good that he’s back. He did well for the Springboks and obviously, going into the big European games, you want as many hands on deck as possible.
“Mark (Anscombe) wants a full complement of players to pick from,” Marshall said.
Anscombe’s response was: “They’re different types of players, so they bring different things to the game and I think we’re fortunate to have that because it’s a good balancing act.”
But the Ulster coach is not allowing anyone to get carried away at this stage, a played six, won six record in competitive matches notwithstanding. With a game in hand — and that’s away to bottom of the table
Italians, Zebre, who have yet to win — Ulster lead the RaboDirect PRO12 race. They are the early pace-setters in Pool Four of the Heineken Cup, too.
But Anscombe insists: “These are early days.”
“People keep saying that with us having been in the Heineken Cup final last year we’ve got to win it now.
“That’s an expectation some may have created, and while that’s up to them, it’s important that as a collective group we have expectations, too.
“Our supporters have expectations of us to do better.
“They want silverware and we haven’t got that yet, so we’ve got to do that.
“We do have our own goals that we have set ourselves and I have personal goals as to what I’d like to achieve here. But if you’re to achieve you’ve just got to get on and do the work.”
And with Ulster currently playing winning rugby Anscombe pointed to the calibre of the players now on board.
“I think David Humphreys has got to take a lot of credit for that; not only has he recruited well but he’s got the right type of people,” he said.
“It’s important when you recruit, internationally, you get people who will fit in and take on board the place that they’ve come to rather than just have a hand-out type of mentality. You get a lot of that in sport, but I don’t think we have it here.”