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Ulster can prove they've got more in the tank, says Luke Marshall ahead of Zebre visit

 

Point to prove: Luke Marshall scores against Cardiff Blues last week
Point to prove: Luke Marshall scores against Cardiff Blues last week

By Michael Sadlier

The sin bin. Not the place Luke Marshall had planned to find himself last Friday evening.

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It's never an easy station sitting things out for 10 minutes and watching while your team-mates have to make do with having one less body out on the park.

The danger is that you get too eager to re-join the game and that the sense of urgency to make up for what had got you the yellow card in the first place might also lead to losing focus on your return while, of course, during your absence your team may already have surrendered some ground on the scoreboard.

For Marshall all these were factors as he waited for the clock to tick down to allow him back in the game with Cardiff Blues, but something else was getting to him after being shown yellow just before half-time.

"The toughest thing (in the bin) last week was the cold," Marshall admitted.

"It suddenly got very cold and I found it hard to get my hands and feet warm again.

"That was a bit of a struggle."

The long-serving Ulster centre, with 128 appearances behind him, then re-joined the action eager to hit the ground running as well as getting his circulation going again.

"You're just trying to make up for it," added the Ireland international of getting back into the action after his binning.

"I just got caught lying on the wrong side of the ball, at the time I was frustrated with it but it was a pretty clear penalty looking back at it.

"When you get back on you're just trying to fit in again and make amends for it."

Ulster had lost the 10 minutes Marshall had been off by a margin of 7-3 but still led the game 20-7 and though the home side were back at full strength, they never recovered the early momentum which had seen Marshall and Billy Burns score early tries.

Still, they won again and in a similar way to the Southern Kings in the sense that their second 40 minutes was nowhere near what had been done over the period of the first.

"It's a positive we're still winning," Marshall, who has now scored two tries in two games, said.

"It was frustrating we didn't kick on (against Cardiff), and we probably would have got a bonus point if we'd played to our full potential.

"But we're still winning, and to know we've still got more in the tank is a positive. It's just how we bring that out in ourselves."

One of the issues in Ulster's second half dips has been their discipline, or rather lack of it. Sixteen penalties conceded against the Kings and 12 when playing the Blues.

There has to be a further cut on these figures, preferably into single figures, for tomorrow at home to Zebre in round five of the PRO14.

"It's hard to put your finger on it exactly," the 28-year-old states of Ulster's recent penalty issues.

"We got on the wrong side of the referee early on and once they make a decision that they don't like you, it's hard to get back on their side.

"But it's something we have to address and get better at or it's going to hurt us going on."

Without wishing to tempt fate, we now get on to the observation that Marshall is a rare commodity these days at Ulster, a front-line centre who is fit.

With James Hume and Stuart MCloskey both out, Marshall has kept going as the one constant in midfield.

"I'm just trying to keep fit at the minute," he states without straying into the territory of his own injury woes in recent seasons.

Still, there is Matt Faddes to call upon. "Matt came off the bench last Friday (for Hume) and it was easy to fit in with him and he makes my job easy as well."

Naturally, there is little noise about easily seeing off Zebre who, as with last week in their 3-0 loss to Leinster, are expected to be reinforced with Italy internationals. At least not officially though, clearly, five points in the bag is the target against the bottom side in Conference A.

Marshall holds firm to the party line on this one. "It's just about getting the win," he says.

"Hopefully it's a bit warmer than it was last weekend."

As long as Marshall keeps away from the bin then he shouldn't really feel the cold.

Meanwhile, Ulster have announced their 44-player squad for this season's European Champions Cup which opens in Bath in just over two weeks' time.

Academy prop Callum Reid is the most notable inclusion in the squad.

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