Luke Marshall was one of four 21-year-olds in the Ulster back line which lined out against Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
His inclusion surprised no-one; the outside-half-turned-inside-centre is making a very strong case for himself and it’s going to be interesting to see what coach Mark Anscombe does when Paddy Wallace — who turned 33 on August 27 — is able to resume.
Marshall has become a serious threat in the scrap for the number 12 berth and Wallace is mindful of the new coach’s promise to select players based on current form rather than past performances. If Anscombe is true to his word, he will not be omitting in-form youngsters in order to accommodate somebody else simply because they are older and happen to have a reputation.
Although last Friday night saw Marshall win his 12th Ulster cap — his sixth as a starter — he made his debut as far back as October 2010. Since then, however, with Wallace and Nevin Spence ahead of him in the queue, he has had to bide his time.
But now, with that pair sidelined by injury thus far this season, the young man with the distinctive fair hair is grabbing the opportunity their absence has afforded him. He is committed, he is confident, he is capable and he is a clever footballer. Those attributes have seen him make a very persuasive case for himself.
Marshall combines strength and creativity in a 50/50 grace/grit mix. The fact that he was a fly-half at school means he also has a boot with which he can clear danger or, alternatively, open up a defence.
“I’m really enjoying it at the minute,” he beams. “I was a wee bit lucky to get the opportunity because of injuries to the others and international calls during the summer, but that’s the way it goes. You take your chance when it comes.”
He is one of a group of highly promising youngsters to have put their hand up in response to Ulster’s call. He is happy to put the case for that group, too.
“I think the young guys definitely are grasping the opportunities they’re being offered at the minute and they’re going to make it difficult for the older boys to walk straight back in,” he says.
“There’s definitely a lot more strength in depth this year. Last year and the year before when the young guys were used they were all pitched in together.
“This year — so far anyway — when we’ve got a go it has been beside some of the more experienced players, the likes of John (Afoa) and Johann (Muller) in the pack and Jared (Payne) in the backs.
“That has helped us. Okay, you’re nervous, but when you’ve got these older guys in the team that gives you a lot more confidence.
“It wasn’t that the young guys weren’t good players in the past. But we were inexperienced so when we were put into a high-pressure environment together I think we maybe tried to force things a wee bit.
“Now, with some of the experienced guys in there, it means that when things get a wee bit tougher, we’re able to slow it down a bit.”
Marshall has thoroughly enjoyed playing alongside teenager Chris Farrell in midfield, lauding his centre partner’s role in his own form.
“Chris is quite easy to play with,” Marshall points out. “He’s a good ball-player and he always plays with his head up. He used to play a wee bit at 10 as well so we both like to move the ball around. I think we gel well together.”
The physicality of the all-important midfield battle does not faze the 5ft 11st, 15st 1lb centre who has played All-Ireland club football for Ballymena. On the contrary, he enjoys it.
“It’s just about getting stuck in,” he says. “Watching Nevin Spence last year meant I needed to be doing that.
“I’m really enjoying it. And with the size of Chris he has no problems with it, either!”