Luke Marshall ready to use his head for Ulster
Luke Marshall has had a roller-coaster 2013 to date, the highs being three full international caps for Ireland, the lows an unwanted trio of concussions.
That unfortunate hat-trick of bangs to the head cost the 22-year-old Ulster centre a place on Ireland's summer trip to the United States and Canada. On the plus side, though, that much-needed time-out saw him return with a clean bill of health.
Even so, Marshall admits to having had a few anxious moments in his comeback game against Leinster in a pre-season friendly at Ravenhill on August 23.
"The first couple of sessions in the summer I was a wee bit nervous," he reveals.
"And for a couple of hours before that first game against Leinster I thought a wee bit about what would happen if I got a knock or two.
"But once you get your first couple of tackles in that goes away. I haven't really thought about it since."
If he has not been thinking about the risk of another head injury, like his colleagues he has thought long and hard about last weekend's 15-8 defeat by Newport Gwent Dragons.
"No, that wasn't the start we wanted," Marshall says.
"We just didn't turn up on the night, though we'd trained well, we were feeling good and our warm-up was good, too. I don't know why we just never got going in the match."
Tomorrow night, Ulster have a chance to put that behind them by bouncing back against Glasgow Warriors (Ravenhill, 7.05pm).
"We owe it to ourselves – after all the hard work we put into pre-season – and to the fans to produce a performance. It's our first competitive game at the new stadium so we're looking forward to that and to putting on the sort of performance we're capable of," Marshall says.
He has real respect for tomorrow night's opponents and makes no secret of the fact.
"Glasgow are a good side to measure ourselves against. They'll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, pushing for the top four, definitely. They have a really strong squad so beating them is important for us," Marshall explains.
"There are so many strong teams – Leinster and Munster who got bonus-point wins last week, Glasgow and a few others – that if you lose a couple of games at the start you put a lot of pressure on yourselves to get back into it.
"So we know we really can't afford to slip up in the next few weeks."
So in addition to any repetition of that poor display at Rodney Parade last Friday night being punished by tomorrow's Ravenhill guests, his concern is that the longer term damage could end up being very costly.
He remains baffled by the Ulster back line's total failure to deliver in Newport.
"We didn't make any sort of headway," is how he describes the backs' wretched, mistake-riddled showing against the Dragons.
"We just couldn't put anything more than two or three phases together. Too many mistakes, too much ball turned over.
"We really just played into their hands. They didn't have to play much rugby at all to beat us, which was a bit depressing. We were well under par. I don't know why – maybe just a lack of concentration at key points and things not going our way. It's hard to put your finger on it, really. But it was pretty frustrating."
He knows Glasgow – third in last season's PRO12 race – are a better team than the one to whom Ulster lost the opening match.
"They're strong right across the park. Basically it's an all-international back line – a lot of those guys played against South Africa in the summer so they're full of confidence. They've a very good pack, too, so we're just going to have to be on top of our game in every aspect," he stresses.
That said, he insists he is not intimidated by the prospect of facing them.
"If we play to our strengths I'm confident we can beat them," Marshall says, before qualifying that optimism by adding: "But we're going to have to be at our best in every aspect. It's not just going to be one aspect where we'll beat them. They're strong throughout so everyone has to turn up and play."
The Ravenhill factor is a plus, too, he reckons, though ultimately it's down to those on the pitch rather than in the stands and on the terracing to do the business.
"It definitely gives us confidence playing at home against any team," is his view of the support on hand. "We beat Glasgow last year at Ravenhill with a young team so we'll take confidence from that, too.
"But the main motivation comes from within ourselves after playing so poorly last week. We know how much we need to improve, so that should motivate us going into this game.
"We need to concentrate on ourselves. If we do that we should be fine."