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Luke Marshall getting his groove back as competition for centre spots heat up

“The last couple of seasons I’ve been a bit more one-dimensional,” but the 23-year-old is hoping to let his instinctive skills loose again.

Image: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

AS QUIETLY SPOKEN as Luke Marshall is, he doesn’t waste much time before cutting to the point.

So when he sat down to pass his thoughts our way through the magic of the internet he waited all of six seconds before addressing his own shortcomings during the bonus point win over Zebre two weeks ago.

Never mind that it was his first start of the new season or that his appearance as a replacement against the Scarlets the week before had him playing in the unfamiliar outside centre role. That’s just “making excuses” as far as the 23-year-old is concerned.

“It was a drop below the standard I’ve set for myself, so I’m looking to improve on that over the next while.”

That straight talking has at times seemed to mirror his performances on the field. In recent seasons, Marshall has often had to curb his creative instincts for the good of team. The line-breaking tyro that burst on the international scene in 2013 became more of a traditional bash-it-up-the-middle style inside centre.

Now, though Paddy Wallace has retired, the return to fitness of Stuart Olding has made midfield selection a tricky conundrum at the newly named Kingspan Stadium. Marshall feels that he will have to rediscover some of the old magic to keep the young pretender at bay.

“I suppose I have changed a little bit over the last few seasons. I was playing a little bit more direct. I still have the other style of play in my repertoire. And that’s one of the things this year I’m working hard on, to bring it out again.

“Maybe the last couple of seasons I’ve been a bit more one-dimensional, but I feel I can still bring that to the game. Obviously with Stuarty bringing that as well I need to up my game to be competing with him.”

Luke Marshall Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

[team selection?]

Last weekend, during the win over the Cardiff Blues, it was Olding and Darren Cave who filled the midfield, with Louis Ludik shifting to 13 late on in the game. Marshall was not involved in the matchday squad.

Jared Payne is another strong option for Les Kiss and Neil Doak in the centre this season. There are various combinations and pairings that could yield strong results, including Marshall outside Olding – as in the closing stages of the Pro12 round one draw with the Scarlets.

“It was nice to come on outside Stuarty,” says Marshall. He’s a pretty slick operator at 12 so he is. It’s pretty easy coming on outside of him.

“I hadn’t played too much at 13 before, but I enjoyed it against the Scarlets.”

As for whether the combination would work in reverse, with Marshall in his favoured position and Olding outside, he wouldn’t be drawn,  merely saying “we’ll see what happens”.

Whatever shirt he’s given, Marshall is hoping that improved performances in the coming weeks will mark the closing of a difficult period of concussion and changed tack, and the opening of a new chapter.

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Sean Farrell

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