THERE WAS A silver lining in Irish rugby this weekend as Ulster’s Luke Marshall emerged from his comeback game gasping for air but eager for more action.
The 21-year-old centre played in an unfamiliar role of 13, alongside Paddy Wallace in the midfield, as the league leaders stumbled to defeat against Ospreys at Ravenhill.
Given the injury knocks sustained by Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Earls and Gordon D’Arcy in the past two weeks, it is encouraging to have Marshall back in the mix for international selection.
While provincial teammate Craig Gilroy got the hat-trick against Fiji, and Paddy Jackson kicked the points, one of the biggest positives to emerge from the ‘Selects’ win was Marshall’s assured display at 12.
He made three fantastic line breaks in the first half, showed great sleight of hand on numerous occasions and crossed over for the final try.
Marshall and Ulster will take on Treviso in Belfast on Friday and the centre insists provincial matters come take precedent ahead of international ambitions.
He told TheScore.ie, “I’m very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been getting.
I’m young and still have a lot to learn; I’ve found that out this year in the league and the Heineken Cup in particular.”
Speaking about his temporary shift to outside centre last Friday, he added, “I was happy enough to play there… I’ve played there a bit in the past and enjoy it; it’s a little different to the inside centre role. It’s something else to add to my playing CV.”
With Jonathan Sexton looking doubtful for Ireland’s Six Nations game against Scotland next weekend, Jackson is expected to be elevated to Declan Kidney’s matchday 23.
Ronan O’Gara, despite a lacklustre showing against England, is favourite to start the Murrayfield match but Marshall has no doubts that Jackson could deliver for Ireland.
“Definitely,” he said. “Jacko has never been the type to get too nervous.
I’d be totally confident that he could step up and do the job.”
Kidney referred to the confidence that Gilroy and Jackson have imbued on the Irish squad and the young outhalf has been described by Ulster captain Johann Muller as a player not backward in coming forward with his opinion.
The much-anticipated rapping battle rematch with the Simon Zebo will have to wait after the Munster man broke a bone in his foot.
“I’ve Paddy’s rapping it a couple of times,” Marshall commented. “They [Jackson and Zebo] had a great one in the gym during the November Series. It was something to behold.”