Paul Marshall has reassured fans that Ulster are “not a one man team” after Ruan Pienaar was ruled out of Saturday’s European Champions Cup opener against Leicester Tigers.
The team’s star Springbok will be absent due to an MCL injury suffered on international duty last month but Marshall, who will fill the scrum-half void at Welford Road, said: “Ruan is a fantastic player but across the board we have great options and I like to think that Michael Heaney and I are good options as well. We’re not a one man team.
“It’s funny, because he’s made such a good contribution over the last couple of years people obviously want to see him in the big games but, from my point of view, I obviously want to be playing in those games too.
“Sometimes if he gets an injury or something the whole country starts to think ‘oh no, we’re on our knees’ but I’m probably the only person thinking about it in terms of me getting an opportunity.
“That’s not taking anything away from Ruan, but I’d like to think that the wheels don’t fall off if I’m playing or if Heaney is playing.”
Far from an inexperienced stand-in, Marshall’s 130 Ulster appearances include three against Saturday’s opponents in European competition.
The 29-year-old started against the two-time Heineken Cup champions when they visited Belfast last year, was a try-scorer in the 41-7 thumping handed to Richard Cockerill’s side during Ulster’s run to the 2012 final and a replacement in the away defeat during the same campaign.
On that reverse, he recalled: “I played in Welford Road and obviously it’s a tough place to play.
“The atmosphere they have there is similar to what we have here (at the Kingspan Stadium) and it’s certainly going to be a tough start.
“They’ve always been a very hard-working team, very physical, and very detailed in what they do.
“This season they’ve been unfortunate with injuries but they still pulled out a good result there last week (beating Harlequins 22-16).
“They’re always going to be a tough side no matter who they put on the field.”
Marshall has started all but one of Ulster’s six games this season, coming off the bench in the defeat to Zebre, but feels that he is only recently starting to show signs of his best form.
“I think I haven’t been as dominating as I would have liked but I’ve been steady enough,” he said.
“Players are always going to be hard on themselves, and you’re never going to get a perfect performance, but hopefully I’ve been heading the right way and I can contribute to the team.
“I think the last couple of weeks I’ve just done my basics well enough and with Paddy (Jackson) and Ian (Humphreys) we have two good number 10s.
“The halfbacks are going to be the fulcrum of the team so whoever we have out there I have to complement them.
“The forwards have been providing us with great ball in the last few weeks and it’s going to be up to us to use it against Leicester.”
Do so effectively and, at least for a day or two, Ulster fans may just forget about the most talked about knee in the province.