Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Marshall up again for Ulster and Ireland

Back on the ball: Luke Marshall is enjoying Ulster's run on fine wins

There's no escaping the feel-good factor around Ulster at the moment and, even with the floor of the team room at their Newforge training base festooned with shirts waiting for players' signatures, the banter is still good and the mood clearly upbeat.

Not that anyone floating around the room with pen in hand is basking in the afterglow of two weekends of European success, even with last Saturday's thumping win in Montpellier still being fresh in the collective mind.

Actually it's anything but and Luke Marshall makes it abundantly clear that all the high-fiving and accompanying euphoria over what occurred in Stade Yves du Manoir is now done and very much dusted which is only for the best as good fortune can change in the blink in the eye.

And the 22-year-old already knows what it's like to be propelled along on the hype of some eye-catching performances – with his first cap for Ireland against Scotland last February being a case in point – only to find that a lot of that early ground was lost after three successive concussions forced him to end last season early after the European quarter-final defeat to Saracens.

It also forced him to miss out on Ulster's PRO12 final and the Ireland tour to North America, but there was the consolation of the PRO12's Young Player of the Season award but, even so, missing so much rugby at the back end of last season left an unfortunate after-taste which the hard-running centre is now clearly very keen to put well behind him.

"I've hadn't had anything so far," Marshall says, before parking the issue with, "I have taken a couple of whacks and haven't felt anything so fingers crossed."

Marshall plays the game hard and direct with getting the ball in his hands and running strong angles off players both inside and outside him being very much his trademark while putting boot to ball is also part of the armoury after coming through the ranks playing at out half.

And while we're on things Montpellier, well, he didn't really see too much ball last Saturday afternoon and, yes, you sense he would quite like the tactics to be tweaked just a bit for this Friday.

"It was a funny sort of game really. Most of the action was either in the tight or out wide," Marshall recalls with a smile.

"It was quite an attritional game up front and we kicked a lot of ball which meant that the wings and full back were working quiet hard.

"Hopefully I'll get a chance to run with the ball," he adds regarding this week before ensuring he stays right on message by saying, "but as long as we are winning that is all I care about really."

He worked hard with Darren Cave last Saturday, closing down space and knocking men down but that's gone and now it's about approaching another opponent and a Cardiff Blues side which – as with Timoci Nagusa in Montpellier's ranks last week – just so happens to have another former Ulster player in their ranks with Andi Kyriacou now the forwards coach.

Not that any of this has much interest for Marshall who knows that another PRO12 victory has to be chased which, this time, may well see him combine again with Jared Payne who last started outside him in last month's Ravenhill win against Treviso.

It means a bit of cramming for Marshall to reacquaint himself with the silky nuances of the Kiwi's game but, no matter, it's just part of the process and the adjustment will be made if necessary.

"It freshens things up a bit and gives you a different style of play because Darren and Jared are different styles of players," he explains.

Getting a score would be timely, especially with the autumn internationals so close at hand and, of course, bearing in mind that he was called for a forward pass to Cave against the Tigers last time Ulster togged out at Ravenhill after Marshall's fellow centre had got on the end of what would have been one of the scores of the season.

"Yeah," he laughs about the assist that got away against the Tigers.

"It was a pretty marginal call but it was just one of those things and I got a bit of stick for it on the Monday."

As for impressing Joe Schmidt and adding to his so far three Ireland caps, well, he can't help but feel that the time is right for a stand out performance.

Schmidt named him in his squad for the Autumn Series yesterday so now the onus is on Marshall to keep producing the goods on the pitch.

"It's in the back of my mind," he says about Ireland. "And it gives me a motivation to play well for Ulster. I'm happy enough with the way I've been playing for the last few weeks and fingers crossed I get picked."

Nearly a year ago he made a notably try-scoring impact for the Ireland XV against a pretty woeful Fiji, while playing between Paddy Jackson and Cave.

There's no better time than now for Marshall to kick on a bit more both in a provincial and international way.

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