I need more game time to get Irish nod – Marshall
Published 24/12/2012 | 05:00
LUKE MARSHALL played what was just his third 80 minutes for Ulster in Friday night's Pro12 win over Leinster.
For a player of outrageous talent and potential, it's not enough game time. He has played 12 games this season for Ulster but, aside from those three full games, he hasn't played more than 23 minutes in any of the others.
It's been eight minutes here, 11 minutes there, as he's had to live on snatched moments so far in a season that promises much for Ulster.
It is Marshall's bad fortune that standing in his way in Ulster is Paddy Wallace, a player who is playing, arguably, some of his best rugby ever.
Wallace has been magnificent for Ulster. In fact, so impressive is his form, a call-up for the November internationals was whispered about.
One suspects, though, that the trauma visited on Wallace during the summer in Hamilton – not of his making – means he is unlikely to feature in an Irish squad again.
In any case, Marshall is the future. That much is universally recognised. What he needs, though, is game time with Ulster.
And when he does feature, he needs to make every minute count.
"I have to take every chance I get when I'm selected. Or when I come off the bench," said Marshall.
"Paddy's form this year has been brilliant, which is obviously restricting the amount of time I get on the pitch.
"He is playing some of his best ever rugby, so when I do get a chance, like I did against Leinster, I have to be on top form."
What must be hugely frustrating for Marshall is that his lack of game time – either because of injury or non-selection – has already cost him this season.
Declan Kidney, for example, referenced his lack of game time as one of the deciding factors in opting for Gordon D'Arcy over him for the November Tests against South Africa and Argentina.
Hearing that is obviously a fillip for a young player's confidence. It doesn't, however, wipe out the disappointment at missing out on selection. Marshall did play against Fiji, but that was only a small consolation.
"It was a nice boost when Declan did reference me," he said.
"But I still need to be starting for Ulster. There's no getting away from that.
"If I am going to break into the national team, I have to be playing for my club side every week."
The fellowship within the Ulster camp is obviously very strong.
They have evolved as a side and it's no coincidence that they are the only Irish side in control of their European Heineken Cup Pool.
Ulster are also in command of the Celtic League.
They have a seemingly unassailable lead at the top of the table – in fact Joe Schmidt conceded that Leinster will not catch them following Friday night's game – and are playing with a cohesion and aplomb that the other Irish teams, in particular, are not matching.
It would be churlish for Marshall to bemoan his situation as a consequence, but he cannot hide the obvious frustration.
"Like I said, I'm happy to get the game time and to keep Paddy off the pitch for the full 80 minute," he added.
"We just have so much strength in depth in the squad now.
"Everyone is fighting for game time, not just me, and when the chances come you have to be ready and able to take them."
Friday night's start also gave Marshall a chance to go head-to-head with D'Arcy, whose Irish spot he is covetously eyeing. The prospect before the game was daunting and nerve-racking, but hugely motivating at the same time.
"Playing Leinster you are always going to be nervous. They are a very good side. And coming up against Gordon was a big deal too," said Marshall.
"We're happy with the win and after 10 minutes or so I settled in so the nerves were gone. It was a good night for Ulster rugby.
"We haven't had that many victories over Leinster in the past."
Next weekend Marshall, selection depending, will face another big test in Limerick when Munster are likely to start James Downey and Casey Laulala in the centre.
It's a game Munster desperately need to win, not just for their own league prospects but in order to build momentum for their European challenge.
"It's going to be physical. We absolutely know that.
"Munster are a great team, they are particularly difficult to beat in Thomond Park.
"It's going to be a battle, especially in front of what is a great home crowd," added Marshall.