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Euro boost for Ulster as fit-again Marshall joins squad for crunch clash

 

Returning: Luke Marshall has been out since last May
Returning: Luke Marshall has been out since last May

By Michael Sadlier

With the European Champions Cup quarter-final showdown with Leinster just over a fortnight away, Ulster have added long-term absentee Luke Marshall to their squad for the competition's knockout stages.

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The 28-year-old centre was one of three players brought in by Dan McFarland - the rules allow up to this number to be added following the pool stages - with fellow centre James Hume and prop Tommy O'Hagan also drafted in ahead of yesterday's midday deadline.

Marshall has been out of action for nearly a year after tearing his ACL in last May's Champions Cup play-off victory over the Ospreys.

His presence in the European squad indicates that the 11-times capped Ireland international is ready for any game-time that may come his way, though this is more likely to be in the latter stages of the Guinness PRO14.

It is also thought that Marshall's first outing may be as part of the squad heading Stateside next week for games in Boston.

While Marshall has made 119 appearances for Ulster, prop O'Hagan has just the one game for the province.

The 25-year-old made his senior competitive debut in December's defeat at Connacht where he picked up an ankle injury which has since kept him sidelined.

O'Hagan may also be part of the Ulster squad going to Boston.

Hume's breakthrough season has seen the 20-year-old impress on a number of occasions for the senior side and being added to the European squad is another boost for the former RBAI pupil and three-time Schools' Cup winner.

Meanwhile, should Ulster defeat champions Leinster at the Aviva Stadium in their March 30 European quarter-final, they could be back there for their shot at reaching the final.

If McFarland's men pull off a shock win over Leinster, and Toulouse beat Racing 92, then the semi-final will be in Dublin. If Racing win, then the victor between Ulster and Leinster are at La Defense Arena in Paris.

Meanwhile, Leinster will go forward with their Champions Cup winning coaching partnership of Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster for the next two seasons after the pair agreed new contracts.

Leinster announced that Cullen has signed a two-year deal with the IRFU, while the duration of Lancaster's extension has not been made public as per club policy. However, it is understood it will also run until 2021.

Lancaster has been linked with a role in Andy Farrell's Ireland coaching ticket after the World Cup, but he has opted to remain working at the provincial level.

However, Leinster could yet lose scrum coach John Fogarty to Ireland. The former hooker's contract is up at the end of the season and sources indicate he has been identified by Farrell as the leading candidate to replace Greg Feek.

- Enniskillen Royal made up for last season's inaugural Danske Bank Girls' Sevens Cup final defeat with a convincing 14-2 victory over Loreto College, Letterkenny, at Kingspan Stadium.

And there were celebrations too for Craigavon High School, who defeated Ballyclare Secondary School to lift the Danske Bank High Schools' Trophy.

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