Wednesday 21 March 2018

Marshall braced for Toulouse backlash

Luke Marshall is in the final year of his contract with Ulster, who are desperate to tie him down to a new deal Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Luke Marshall is in the final year of his contract with Ulster, who are desperate to tie him down to a new deal Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The biggest challenge that Les Kiss will have faced this week is ensuring that his Ulster players don't take their eye off the ball but given what is at stake in Toulouse tomorrow, it's not one that should have been all that difficult.

While Ulster served up some thrilling rugby in Belfast last Friday, Toulouse's utterly inept performance was one that fitted most stereotypes of French teams away from home.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, Kiss, Paddy Jackson and Andrew Trimble all spoke at length at how they were anticipating a 'backlash' at the Stade Ernest Wallon and that is a theme that his continued up north, right throughout the week.

Toulouse may have their woes on the road but they are unbeaten at home this season and will pose a completely different threat to that of last week.

Luke Marshall's centre partnership with Stuart McCloskey has the potential to become one of the most exciting in the country and they came in for particular praise from Kiss.


Marshall is in the final year of his contract and Ulster will be desperate to tie him down to a new deal but the 24-year old admitted that he is keeping his options open.

"Obviously being a local boy this is the club I've always wanted to play for," he said.

"I feel it's definitely a place where I'll improve as a player but I suppose I'm just weighing up everything, opportunities and see what offers come my way.

"In these European games you want to play well and with me not playing particularly well last season and the injuries, I was under pressure to produce something.

"It's nice to get a run of games with the competition here and last season was disappointing - I had to watch all these big games from the sidelines and the stands so it's nice to be involved in them again.

"The European games are the biggest shop window outside international rugby if you're looking to stay or go elsewhere.

"It's definitely much more high-pressure. Ideally you just want to focus on rugby but when there are other things going on inside your head it does make things a bit trickier. It's not ideal but it's part of the sport."

Marshall and his team-mates don't need any distractions ahead of tomorrow but they have been dealt a blow with Chris Henry ruled out with what is believed to be a shoulder injury. Nick Williams is also left out and starts on the bench.

There was no official line given by Ulster on Henry's fitness in yesterday's press release, although interestingly it did include the following: ". . .as Kiss carefully manages his playing resources during a busy fixture schedule."

One thing is for certain, the Australian could have done with a full squad to chose from but nevertheless, Marshall maintained that Ulster will play a similar type of expansive gameplan that hurt Toulouse so badly last time out.

"There is the temptation that going over there we might play within ourselves but we did work well when playing expansive rugby so we'll try and do the same," Marshall insisted.

"We know they'll be a different team. They didn't do themselves justice and we can expect a bit more.

"In the backline the majority of us like to throw the ball around and we did that well at the weekend and obviously when things click it is very enjoyable.

"I'm enjoying playing with Stu (McCloskey), he's obviously a big unit and takes a fair bit of attention off me and opens a bit of space in the wider channels.

"They're (Toulouse) in a pretty similar position to where we were after Saracens and we were hurting a lot and had to produce a big performance for the crowd and ourselves.

"They're in the same position and they're really going to want to put it right. We've just got to front up and take everything that comes our way."

Sean Reidy comes in for Henry for his European debut up against Thierry Dusautoir. Roger Wilson replaces Williams at No 8 in the only other change from last week.

Toulouse coach Ugo Mola has unsurprisingly been less forgiving with his team selection as he makes several changes. The likes of Florian Fritz, Alexis Palisson, Jean-Marc Doussain and Imanol Harinordoquy all start.

Another Ulster win would keep them hot on the heels of leaders Saracens but they have only managed to complete the double over French teams twice in 20 seasons.

"For us to qualify we probably need to win every game left in the group so we've got to put it to bed and keep our feet on the ground," Marshall said.

"That win in Montpellier (2013) was very special but to beat a team like Toulouse and with their current home record this season being unbeaten in all competitions would be right up there definitely."

The loss of Henry will seriously dent Ulster's hopes of claiming what would be a famous victory and although they proved last week that Toulouse are not the force they once were, they are a different beast at home.

Beware the backlash.

Verdict: Toulouse

Toulouse - A Palisson; K Kunabuli, G Fickou, F Fritz, T Matanavou; J-M Doussain, S Bézy; C Baille, J Marchand, C Johnston; G Lamboley, Y Maestri; Y Camara, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy. Reps: C Tolofua, G Steenkamp, G Muller, J Tekori, L Picamoles G Galan, D Mele, C Poitrenaud.

Ulster - L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best (capt), W Herbst; A O'Connor, F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson. Reps: R Herring, A Warwick, R Lutton, L Stevenson, N Williams, P Marshall, I Humphreys, R Scholes.

Ref - JP Doyle (England)

Irish Independent

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