# Fit and Firing
Marshall ready to make big impact for Ulster after enduring 'tough times'
The centre makes his first start in 10 months tonight against Glasgow Warriors.

AS DAN LEAVY begins the difficult process of coming to terms with his devastating injury blow, and faces into a long and troublesome journey back, the Leinster flanker in time will be able to use the experiences and hardship of other players as he negotiates the various hurdles — both physical and mental — in front of him.  

A horrific injury has robbed him of the chance to represent Ireland at this year’s World Cup, but there is no doubt Leavy is the type of player who, with the help of modern-day science and medical expertise, can come back stronger from the setback, something Luke Marshall has been able to do.

Luke Marshall scores their second try Billy Stickland / INPHO Marshall marked his return with a try against Leinster. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

As Leavy lay stricken on the Aviva Stadium turf last Saturday, the seriousness of the injury becoming all too evident, Ulster’s Marshall made his entrance for Darren Cave, ending a 10-month lay-off after he suffered his own serious knee injury at the end of last season.

Marshall sustained an ACL tear to his right knee in the act of making a crucial tackle during Ulster’s Champions Cup play-off win over Ospreys last May, the damage so severe he required surgery. 

It was a harsh blow for the 11-time capped Ireland international but Marshall worked diligently behind the scenes during the long winter months to build the strength back up in his knee to give himself a chance of featuring before the end of the season.

Injuries to Will Addison and James Hume meant Marshall’s return could not have been better timed as he was pitched straight back into a European quarter-final, with the 28-year-old marking his return with a try-scoring cameo.

It was, he says, a bittersweet day as Dan McFarland’s side fell agonisingly short of defeating Leinster and booking their place in the Champions Cup semi-finals, but it was a huge positive for the province to see the Ballymena native back out there in an Ulster jersey. 

“I am pretty pleased to get back fit, but wish it could have been in a different fashion,” he said, reflecting on last Saturday’s defeat at the Aviva Stadium. 

What a story it would have been had Marshall’s 63rd-minute try — which came under one minute after he came on — been the match-winning score. Alas, for Ulster, it wasn’t to be. 

Marshall’s first touch in 10 months was to float a skip pass out left to Jacob Stockdale and then, with his second, he latched onto Billy Burns’ pop pass to straighten past one Leinster defender and crash over the line through Ross Byrne’s tackle. 

“It is about not trying to force it, I got some good advice from the likes of Marcell [Coetzee], who has been in this position and a few other guys just saying, enjoy it, enjoy being back, do not force it no one is expecting anything,” he says.

It was keeping the expectations low and not unrealistically high. I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the occasion, but the result did not go our way.

“I was lucky that I had a bit on to keep me occupied [during the injury]. I was getting married last summer, it kept me busy for good reasons and bad reasons too. It was tough to watch at times, but it was tough because the boys were playing so well and I wanted to be a part of it. I think if we had not such a good season I would not have missed it as much. It was tough at times, but great to see the guys improving and get to this point.”

After 17 minutes off the bench last week, Marshall is named to start in tonight’s Pro14 game against Glasgow Warriors [KO 7.35pm, Premier Sports, eir Sport] as he resumes his midfield partnership with McCloskey. 

Captain Rory Best is delighted to see Marshall back, the hooker acknowledging that he is the type of player that Ulster need for this crunch period of the season. 

“He hurt that knee making a tackle in that Champions Cup play-off game last year, he really put his body on the line to make sure we qualified,” Best said.

Dan McFarland Matt Mackey / INPHO Dan McFarland will hope his side can produce another big performance tonight. Matt Mackey / INPHO / INPHO

“To see him coming back, it’s a pity it wasn’t the match-winning try he scored because it would have been an unbelievable story. It’s what Dan Leavy faces, and while it’s big headlines now, soon enough it’ll be forgotten about until he’s back again.

“But in that big period between injury and coming back, you get to see every day the work they’re putting in and how difficult it is when they get a little setback and then work again and get another little setback. And they’re coming in and it’s like Groundhog Day.

“To see someone like Lukey come on in that occasion and to score a try and to throw that pass. He’s another one who has a bucketful of energy and hopefully now he’ll get a run without another injury.” 

McFarland has made just five changes from last week, retaining the likes of Stockdale, McCloskey, Burns, John Cooney, Jordi Murphy and Coetzee in his starting XV as Ulster focus their attention on securing a Pro14 play-off berth.

Sitting second in Conference B with three regular-season games remaining, the province have Benetton and Edinburgh breathing down their neck and know they need a strong finish to maintain their pursuit of silverware. 

Ulster are unbeaten in their last five Pro14 games, a run of form which has put them in a good position heading into the business end of the campaign, but face one of the toughest away assignments in the league at Scotstoun.

Glasgow, no doubt smarting from their heavy Champions Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens, will hope to take a big step towards a home semi-final on Friday night and having lost just twice at home all season, it will take another big Ulster performance here.

“It’s in our hands, we’ve tough games but good games,” Marshall adds. “We’ve Edinburgh away and we can put ourselves in a good position if we can win that. Obviously Glasgow away is tough as well and Leinster again but they’re winnable.

“We’ll take confidence from the Leinster performance, and character too, and there’s no reason we can’t win all three and see what happens after that.” 

Glasgow Warriors:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Tommy Seymour
13. Kyle Steyn
12. Sam Johnson
11. Niko Matawalu
10. Adam Hastings
9. Ali Price

1. Oli Kebble
2. Fraser Brown
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Rob Harley
5. Jonny Gray
6. Adam Ashe 
7. Chris Fusaro (captain)
8. Matt Fagerson.


16. Grant Stewart 
17. Jamie Bhatti
18. Siua Halanukonuka 
19. Scott Cummings
20. Tevita Tameilau 
21. George Horne 
22. Pete Horne
23. Robbie Nairn. 


15. Michael Lowry
14. Rob Lyttle
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Billy Burns
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Rob Herring
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor (captain)
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Sean Reidy
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee. 


16. John Andrew
17. Andrew Warwick
18. Tom O’Toole
19. Ian Nagle
20. Matty Rea
21. Dave Shanahan
22. Darren Cave
23. Angus Kernohan. 

Referee: Stuart Berry [South Africa]. 

Gavan Casey and Ryan Bailey are joined by Bernard Jackman to look back on a thrilling weekend of European rugby on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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