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Marshall ready to take chance for Ulster

By Michael Sadlier

With pre-season already in the memory bank, it’s time for the serious business to begin as Ulster gear up for Friday night’s RaboDirect Pro 12 League opener against Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill.

For Paul Marshall the focus will, as ever, just be on the next game, but over this six week period he should, injury permitting, see plenty of action as the scrum half seems certain to be starting for Ulster while Ruan Pienaar is on World Cup duty with South Africa.

It also helps that, by the looks of things at least, the 26-year-old is in pretty decent form at the moment and he has clearly been working hard on his game in the off-season with what appears to be a little bit more zip in his passing along with his usual willingness to break around the fringes.

Another bonus is that Ulster appear to have got through last Friday night’s final pre-season friendly, which saw them beat a decent Harlequins side 22-5 at Ravenhill, without any major injury concerns with flanker Willie Faloon picking up the only notable problem with some stitching required around an eye.

Last Friday Marshall had a good outing and even bagged a typically cheeky try when he broke down the blindside of a scrum, chipped ahead and got the touchdown.

“It just opened up for me and it was nice to get a score,” he said preferring to focus on the side’s overall performance instead of his own notable efforts. We played with a good intensity and good pace and we defended well and it’s great to come out on top ahead of our opening league game.”

His partnership with Ian Humphreys will be pivotal over the next few weeks as Ulster look to make an early impression in the league without their World Cup players.

On Friday night’s evidence it looks as if Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin can be content enough that Ulster are going to be well served in this area as he now has to manage without eight internationals who are in New Zealand.

Marshall will also be hungry to put down a marker before Pienaar’s scheduled return, which will probably be in November, as indeed will second row Lewis Stevenson, who has returned to the Ulster fold this season after a spell with Harlequins.

With Johann Muller unexpectedly included in South Africa’s World Cup plans, Stevenson is now one of only four second rows — along with Tim Barker, Dan Tuohy and Neil McComb — battling for the two starting berths.

“For me personally it’s good to be back,” said the 27-year-old.

“There is a lot of competition which is good and it really pushes everyone to play well as there’s no guarantee of a place so hopefully I’ve done enough as I want to play my part and be involved in with Ulster this season,” Stevenson added.

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