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'We would have rolled over': How Bill Johnston's home truths helped inspire Ulster switch, explains Luke Marshall

 

Mind games: Ulster’s Luke Marshall takes the field
Mind games: Ulster’s Luke Marshall takes the field
Ulster’s Luke Marshall Cardiff Pro14 media day with Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran, Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue, Leinster’s Scott Fardy and Toyota Cheetahs’ Ruan Pienaar

By Richard Mulligan

International centre Luke Marshall feels there is something different about the Ulster set-up this season and that the province have turned things around in how other teams look at them.

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The 28-year-old has made an impressive start to the season as Ulster compete strongly in both the Heineken European Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 Championship.

It comes on the back of a good finish to last season, after he returned from a lengthy injury having torn his ACL.

Ulster have shown progress in the past year, and Marshall believes they are mentally in a better place and are continuing to improve.

Marshall gets a well-deserved weekend off with the Champions Cup double-header with Harlequins coming up.

Speaking at a PRO14 Media Day in Cardiff earlier this week - the final will be staged for the first time in the Welsh capital at Cardiff City Stadium on June 20 - Marshall, who has been around the Ulster setup for a while and is regarded as one of the senior leaders in Dan McFarland's squad, believes there is a 'different feel' about Kingspan Stadium this season.

"I think you go back to the game against Munster recently, we had a good chance to win it and we ended up losing it by six points," he explained.

"In the past we would probably have had the similar start in the first half, but once Munster came back we would have gone out the gate and rolled over, basically.

"This year, and last year as well, we have hung in to games better; we have won games which have been really tight in the last few minutes. It was something we struggled with in years gone by.

"If you are asking other teams throughout the league and in Europe about Ulster, one of the things they will say is they are probably mentally weak and definitely a team that can be targeted mentally, (and then) physically once you tear away the hard exterior underneath, there is a bit of a soft underbelly.

"That is something we definitely targeted, and I think we have turned it around," he added.

The fact that teams did look at Ulster in that way previously annoyed Marshall and his teammates, but he added that part of the process of learning was that they had to be honest with themselves.

"That was the way it was," said Marshall. "I think this year and last year we really addressed it head-on. We have always known it (about ourselves) and never really addressed it. We have done things this year to try and change it. It can motivate you as well.

"We were going down to Munster. We have Bill Johnston in the side now, he came from Munster, and he was able to say, 'This is the way we look at you.' He used the analogy that if you give an Ulster team the noose, they will hang themselves, basically. If you give them a chance they will roll over.

"That was a big motivating factor with us going down there. But I feel we are definitely turning it around now."

Marshall is certainly enjoying his rugby and playing well in the Ulster shirt.

"Obviously being fit after last year being out for a while, it's just nice to play a bit of regular rugby again, and obviously the team is going well so far. It is nice to be able to contribute to that. We have definitely got a bit to go yet, but we are in a good place."

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