Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Luke Marshall upbeat as Ulster Rugby prepare for vital battles

Luke Marshall has been in the wars this season but he's fit and raring to go

The idea was to talk about tomorrow's game at Cardiff Blues, with a bit about a certain up and coming game with Saracens thrown in but, understandably, things stray in the direction of the rather worrying fact that Luke Marshall has suffered four concussion injuries in a year.

His latest knock came at the end of last month when, after 20 minutes of action against the Dragons at Ravenhill, the Ulster and Ireland inside centre was helped from the field after suffering a blow to the head which had inadvertently come from a stray boot from one of his own team-mates.

The recently turned 23-year-old can laugh about it now, but admits the situation is, well, far from ideal and a niggling concern for him.

"It's just bad luck," Marshall said, referring specifically to the Dragons incident.

"I was lying on the ground and got kicked.

"The thing was as soon as I came off the pitch in the Dragons game it was probably the most worried I've been and I was thinking 'oh no, not this again'.

"I thought I had actually been knocked out as I don't have any memory of it but in the video I just looked dazed.

"Still, I recovered pretty well and the next day I was fine," he added.

"I don't think there's anything I can really do," he adds regarding taking precautions to try and prevent the blows to the head from happening.

"But it is a wee bit worrying at this age to have four in the last year, but I just have to keep playing and hope it doesn't happen (again)."

After suffering concussions in three consecutive games last season, which saw Marshall pick up shuddering knocks playing for Ireland against France and then Italy before also having to leave the action in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens at Twickenham, the player was given the summer off and missed out on Ulster's PRO12 final reverse to Leinster and on Ireland's tour to North America.

Though he certainly isn't the first, nor indeed the last, to take blows to the head playing the game, the frequency of his concussions brings Connacht's Craig Clarke to mind with the Kiwi second row having to be sidelined indefinitely after picking up a frightening 10 concussions in 22 months.

"Yes, my dad actually mentioned that to me a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know about it," says Marshall.

"That sort of scared me a bit as well. I think he's (Clarke) had brain scans.

"My dad, he would coach underage rugby at Ballymena Academy, like first years, and obviously he sees parents watching them and getting worried on the sidelines any time there are knocks, and it also must be really tough for parents to actually watch professional rugby and see all these head collisions and what-not."

"It's a tough subject in rugby," Marshall says regarding the frequency of head injuries, "and the problem is that I don't think anyone has any proper answers for it, it's such a grey area."

For now, though, the show must go on and his comeback game against Edinburgh last week went well and, thankfully, without incident other than having to deal with the awful playing conditions.

However, Marshall, who had been stood down for the Scarlets game, admitted that concern about taking another bang to his head was at the back of his mind in the lead-up to last Friday's Murrayfield action.

"I was a little bit nervous before the Edinburgh game but once I started playing I was absolutely fine."

So far, it hasn't exactly been a vintage season for Marshall who broke through so impressively into the, then, creaking Ireland set-up last season.

After being dropped for Gordon D'Arcy following the dismal defeat to Australia last autumn, he got the nod for the Six Nations opener against Scotland, only for Joe Schmidt to leave him out again for the veteran D'Arcy during the remainder of Ireland's march towards the Six Nations title.

Naturally, it was difficult for him to look on while Ireland celebrated in Paris but there is no sense of bitterness, just disappointment and determination to get back into the side.

"Being dropped, well, it's something that I always try to look at from the coach's perspective," he says.

"With it being Wales the week after (Scotland) they (the coaching staff) were quite nervous about the Welsh backline and I think Gordon and Brian's track record together is probably as good as you get in world rugby.

"I suppose part of me said 'fair enough' but then l was also disappointed because I feel that I could do as good a job, but I know it's just one of those things.

"In many ways it motivated me to get back with Ulster and play well to show Joe (Schmidt) what he'd missed out on.

"The Scotland game seems like a long time ago now and then I got the knock (against the Dragons) and then wasn't training with them (Ireland) and at the end I didn't really feel that much involved at all," is Marshall's honest take on the Six Nations just finished.

But that was then. Now it's all about putting it together for Ulster as they draw ever nearer to the business end of the season.

"We've definitely got one eye on next week," he says referring to the European showdown with Saracens, "but we've still got to beat Cardiff this week."

And hopefully he will manage this without shipping any further damage.

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