Marshall out to force way into frame for Toulon
With only four games to go in the regular league season, opportunities to stake a claim for a starting berth should be rare enough.
However, with Leinster still fighting on two fronts, opportunities are still available for players to put their hands up.
On Sunday Ben Marshall will start only his second game of the season; with question marks over Kane Douglas’ fitness, both Marshall and Tom Denton want game-time to challenge Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy for spots in the XV.
“It’s unusual timing I suppose but if Kane doesn’t come through training next week there is suddenly a chance to really push Devin and Mike,” he says.
“If Kane isn’t right for Toulon well then Tom and I need to be giving Matt (O’Connor) and all the coaches a headache.”
This is Marshall’s fourth season in blue, but it’s been an injury-ravaged time for the 24-year-old since his debut against Ulster in December 2010. Seventeen appearances, with just six starts, must make for frustrating reading.
“Of course it does but I’ve been unlucky with injury and you have to get on with it. I had a good run of games in the 2012/13 season when I managed to put five starts together over the season and that felt like a breakthrough, but again injuries and misfortune had other ideas,” he explains.
“I would like to think that when fully fit and flying I am a good option for the coaches.
“You also have to acknowledge the form of the other lads. Devin and Mike and then Kane as well have all done really well for us this season and then of course Dento has taken his chances really well. So you can’t argue with their form.
“Each week we all want to train as well as we can to make our case and I’m no different. That way if the coach doesn’t select you, at least you know that the lads are picked on form but also that you couldn’t have done any more.”
So what does a fully fit Marshall offer?
“I suppose I would like to think that my defensive lineout work is good. My stats this season for steals in the seven games are very good,” he says.
“I think that I have a good ability to cover ground and I think against maybe bigger second-rows that aerobic ability around the park suits my game in that I can support the play in the loose.
“Hopefully I will get some opportunities on Sunday to show what I can do.”
Even when opportunities have been presented and when he has reported for duty, the ball hasn’t bounced his way. In the British & Irish Cup final last season.
In Donnybrook against Leeds , he lasted seven minutes before a nasty gash to the head put paid to his evening.
Ross Molony came on and put in a fine shift in a 44-17 romp against Leeds. Molony got many plaudits. It was open, it was fast. It would have suited Marshall equally.
Flash forward to February 2015 and he was selected on the bench against Zebre but he rolled his ankle in the warm-up. Again Molony, who had been 24th man, subs on instead of him and came on and puts in a huge 20 minutes off the bench.
“I have been patient and I will get a chance on Sunday and all going well I will trump 2012/13 in terms of game-time and appearances,” says Marshall.
“So while I would have liked more game time, all going well this will have been my most productive season in terms of appearances. I just have to avoid taking any balls from Darragh Fanning in the warm up!”
Fanning the fall guy?
“Most definitely! We were doing a warm up drill, iIt was actually the very first warm-up drill and he could have taken it on himself; instead he passed it to me and I took the carry and the ankle just went over. You try to convince yourself that it will be okay – how could you injure yourself in an innocuous situation like that? – but you can’t play when not fully fit.”
How hard is it to put team first?
“I tried to play on. I stepped out and gave myself a few minutes to let the ankle calm down. Then I went back in but no luck. I called over the physios maybe looking for some strapping but again no luck. You really do try everything to play but ultimately you have to make the call for the right reasons and my ankle wasn’t right. Ross did a great job though, knew his role and I thought he had an outstanding debut.”
Debuts have been a feature of a lot of Leinster squads this year. Is there an onus on those there that little bit longer to ease the young lads into it?
“Yeah of course. Obviously I don’t have the experience of someone like Shane Jennings but then again you see it in the lads’ eyes or their faces the excitement when they get the nod and you do think back,” says marshall.
“Lads like Peter Dooley, the Byrne brothers, Steve Crosbie have all made debuts this year and of course you try to help them. Ross Molony will be on the bench this Sunday for the first time properly in the lead-up to a big game, so you try to help him out.
“My debut was an interpro game so there was huge pressure and there were guys like Stephen Keogh in the squad that were maybe more experienced than I but I remember getting the nod during the week from Joe (Schmidt) and then coming on for Sean O’Brien in Ravenhill in the Magners League as it was then.
“There are so many emotions but you have to channel all that energy in the right way so yeah, you’d be encouraging the lads to enjoy it and to take it all in but to know their detail as well.”
It’s now time for him to enjoy it.
“I’m looking forward to it. Rodney Parade is no easy place to go to. The Dragons had a great win last weekend against Cardiff in the Challenge Cup so like us they will have a squad challenging for spots for the week after in their semi-final with Edinburgh,” he says.
How difficult is it for Leinster players not to look ahead to their own semi?
“Sunday is a huge test of its own but we are also looking on this game as a momentum-builder. Yes it’s hugely important for the Pro12 points on offer but it also offers us the opportunity to build towards Toulon on Sunday week,” says Marshall.
“Eoin Reddan put it perfectly today in training. This is knock out rugby. It’s do or die. If we give it our all and if we perform we have to believe that it will be enough and we can then take that into next week.
“But our focus has been really good this week and it’s all eyes on the Dragons.”