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Marshall hungry for place at top table

By Niall Crozier

Luke Marshall stole the show at Carton House where the Ireland team to face Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon was announced.

He and Ulster team-mate, co-debutant and fellow-21-year-old Paddy Jackson sat like two bookends, either side of captain Jamie Heaslip and coach Declan Kidney, ready to face a barrage of questions from the assembled Press corps.

With Jackson controversially preferred to veteran Munster stand-off Ronan O'Gara, he was first in the spotlight. Marshall watched as his fellow Ulsterman handled the media's prompting and probing, dealing confidently and competently with whatever came his way.

When it came Marshall's turn, he went one better, adding comedy to the confidence and competence of his answers. More than once, captain Heaslip laughed aloud as Marshall told it like it is in the head of a 21-year-old devoid of fear, misgivings or qualms.

One-time maths teacher Kidney, who sat to Marshall's right, smiled throughout as the cub to whom he has awarded a first full international cap wooed seasoned reporters who were forced to re-think the idea of having long ago heard everything worth hearing.

They hadn't heard Marshall and he was worth hearing.

It emerged that he plays despite having a broken bone in his back; he told them about his rivalry with Jackson when they were opposing fly-halves in the colours of Ballymena Academy and Methodist College; he admitted that although he will be nervous he is not worried about Murrayfield or Scotland.

There was nothing at the outset to suggest that Marshall would emerge as a real personality. Asked what he hoped to bring to the team his reply was run-of-the-mill.

"Just what I'm doing this season for Ulster, just bring my form and what I've been trying to do in the last couple of games.

"Do what I do and listen to the guys outside me who have experience in the team and I should be fine," he straight-batted.

Asked about his state of mind he offered: "I'd say I'd be nervous. You'd be nervous before any game if you're in the right place but I don't think it's anything I can't cope with. I'm looking forward to it."

Asked if he was happy to let his comrade-in-arms Jackson take the lion's share of the attention at this stage he said: "I'll let him take it, yeah."

It was when he was asked about a rumour of a quite serious injury dating back some years that we caught the first glimpse of Marshall's innocence and charm.

"Yeah, I'd a broken bone in my back," he said, with about as much concern as if describing a paper cut.

"I think I did it when I was about 12 or 13. I didn't realise I had done it. I had a bit of back trouble when I was 17 or 18 and I had a scan on it and there was a broken bone in my back. It had been broken ages ago.

"I thought it was a disc or something, but it turned out to be a bone."

He has not had treatment. "It's just when it hits the nerve, that's when the pain comes. At the minute it's fine so fingers crossed," he said.

Cue a loud guffaw of laughter from an incredulous Heaslip and a look of impressed amazement from Kidney.

The whole assembly joined in the Irish captain's laughter moments later when, asked where and how the spinal injury had come about, Marshall answered: "I think I fell out of a tree, but I'm not sure."

"You've just made the headlines there, boy," Heaslip told the Ulster player.

Asked about his switch from out-half to inside-centre, he responded: "I suppose they're reasonably similar, 10 and 12, especially the way we play. If you have a ball-player at 12 it makes the backline tick a lot better.

"It was easy enough going out to 12; I suppose you maybe just have to concentrate a bit more defensively.

"Initially I wanted to stay at 10 because I'd played there since I started. But I knew he was pretty special," he said, nodding towards Jackson, "so I was happy to move out one and still stay in the team."

Marshall explained that Ulster backs coach Neil Doak played a major part in his move out from stand-off.

"He said he thought I was quite big for a 10 and maybe I'd be suited a bit better to 12. He (Jackson) was coming through and there were a couple of other good 10s coming through – I wouldn't say it was just him."

As charm offences go, this was a master-class. Scotland had better hope he is less dazzling on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph


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