Magners League: Marshall relishing Pienaar challenge
Paul Marshall is under no illusions. The 25-year-old scrum-half knows that the arrival of South African Ruan Pienaar is going to restrict his appearances behind the Ulster pack.
The Springbok is a world-class player who ticks every box. He is a big money signing whose decision to come here owes everything to his desire to wear the number nine jersey.
Not 10. Not 15. Nine.
The timing is unfortunate for the Ulster Academy graduate.
Isaac Boss’s summer departure for Leinster has seen Marshall start in each of Ulster’s first two Magners League matches, both of which have ended in triumph.
But if the former Methodist College student feels he is unlucky, he is far too professional to let it show.
The former Ulster U21s’ captain, 2008 Ireland A Churchill Cup squad member and 2009 IRB Rugby World Cup 7s player points to pluses for the squad overall rather than to any personal negatives.
The same is true of his assessment of Ulster’s performances in their first two competitive outings of 2010/11. There too he stresses the positives.
“It’s great to have come away with wins in the past two matches, both of which have been pretty physical. Maybe it wasn’t quite as pretty as we would have liked, but sometimes it’s about winning ugly rather than playing well and losing,” he says.
He knows Ulster will be required to knuckle down once again this weekend when Edinburgh come to Ravenhill.
“They’ve lost a couple of games but Edinburgh are a great side. “We’ve got to make sure we’re on the mark and that we don’t take our eye off the ball.
“If we do then given some of the players they’ve got they will punish us,” he warns.
He is enjoying playing behind a big, strong, mobile pack who can be relied upon to provide the sort of possession a scrum-half loves, even if there is still some way to go before perfection is achieved.
“Our line-outs maybe haven’t been great and we’ve possibly struggled a wee bit at the scrum, but that’s something we’re looking at in training and we will work it out.
“But it’s great to have some of the players that we’ve got in,” he enthuses.
“Tim Barker is back and he has been in great form since returning. Johann Muller is a great player who has brought a wealth of experience. He is an absolute genius in the line-out.
“Pedrie’s (Wannenburg) ball-carrying is great. And now we have BJ (Botha) back in, that will help steady the scrum again. That’s another huge plus.
“The great thing is that we have genuine strength in depth, which maybe hasn’t always been the case.
“Last week, for example, we were without Rory (Best) but we were able to bring in Nigel (Brady) and Andy (Kyriacou) and both of them did a great job.
“I think it provides proof we’re moving forward that when we have to take the likes of Rory or Stevie (Ferris) out we’re able to replace them.
“Obviously it’s great when we have those guys, but the fact that we don’t miss them as much as we used to shows we’re making progress as a squad.”
Given his own circumstances, his parting shot is particularly telling.
“Players are going to get opportunities and it’s key that when they come along we’re all able to step up and slot in,” he says.
Pienaar’s arrival may well mean just such a role for the affable Marshall. His attitude suggests that as and when those calls come he will be ready to answer positively.