Tuesday 12 December 2017

By hook or by crook, ex-shepherd determined to lead flock

Former Chiefs hooker eager to kick on and land silerware in first season in Ireland

Hooker Rhys Marshall has played in 12 of Munster’s last 15 games. Photo: Sportsfile
Hooker Rhys Marshall has played in 12 of Munster’s last 15 games. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Munster's brilliant run this season has been forged through their remarkable consistency. And with 14 wins in their last 15 games, there hasn't been much room for error as Rassie Erasmus hopes to guide his team towards silverware.

Hooker Rhys Marshall has played in 12 of the games since Munster's victories began to pile up, after the tragic month of October, and he has been a huge find in a position where Munster were once light on numbers.

The 24-year-old New Zealander joined on a three-year deal at the beginning of October, and he has quickly built a strong relationship with players and coaches.

He is a huge character on and off the pitch, and the former shepherd is delighted to see his greatest competitor getting the recognition he deserves with Ireland now.

Munster's first-choice hooker Niall Scannell can do doubt testify that Marshall's arrival inspired him to bigger and better things this season. And after the young Corkonian got his first cap for Ireland against Italy last weekend, his team-mate waxes lyrical about his potential.

"Niall is a bloody hard worker. He never stops, has a big old engine about him," says Marshall. "A lot of the Munster boys just have motors and keep giving their all for the 80 minutes. Niall has proved that time and again, and to get the Irish call-up is massive.

"It is really cool to see Niall on the bench against Scotland, and then finally get his chance, and take it against Italy. I do enjoy watching the lads playing up there. Now that I know them personally I get more out of the games."

In the future Marshall could well line out in the green of Ireland too, but for now he is totally focused on helping Munster win a trophy in his first season at Thomond Park.

The Tikorangi native and ex-Taranaki star made 22 Super Rugby appearances for the Chiefs, and he was a replacement when they conquered the Southern Hemisphere in 2013.

But Marshall knows he always has more to learn in the game, and since he came to Munster, he is delighted to be working with former Irish international hooker and Munster scrum coach Jerry Flannery.

"Jerry is a massive influence on the hookers in the squad," he says. "And I am looking forward to using his resources more as time goes on and we build a friendship. He is incredible, and is one of a kind. He is very passionate, and a very good professional.

"Rubbing shoulders with the likes of him is pretty cool, especially with his field of expertise around throwing and stuff, one area I have worked pretty hard on.

Philosophy

"And the whole coaching staff have helped. They have a pretty cool philosophy. It is different to New Zealand, you express yourself a bit more here. You go out there every week, and there might be a few errors but you can't be perfect.

"You need to keep trying and to me that's a pretty cool mindset. You don't worry about mucking up or letting the side down."

Marshall played his schools rugby at the famed New Plymouth Boys High School, before he gave the sport up for a few years and farmed in Hawkes Bay.

It was a huge release for Marshall, and even though he worked long hard hours every day he still treasured his days in the New Zealand wilderness.

But rugby was always going to come calling again, and after four years with the Chiefs he was disappointed that he had to stop playing rugby in New Zealand, but was excited about the opportunity to line out for a huge European club like Munster.

"I know I'm coming from a Super Rugby team that did win a Super Rugby title, but I am not sure what it takes to win one of these, but I am sure everyone is working hard to get there," he says.

"It would be something pretty awesome. But the cool thing about Munster is they take it a game at a time.

"I want to get as many minutes now, so when it comes to knock-out time I will have played enough. So when the pressure comes on we will have the fitness to finish strong and win those games.

"Seeing the results of last season and the season before I was just looking forward to getting over here and getting game-time and sussing the place out.

"To see the team doing well, I didn't expect anything different. It's Munster Rugby, they are world renowned and I was expecting something like this."

And it's been a brilliant start to life in Limerick for Marshall, and all that's missing now is his girlfriend, Stephanie, who is set to arrive shortly.

Then he will be able to call Munster his adopted home as he looks to forge a starting spot.

This summer he will return to New Zealand for his sister Alice's 21st in June, but he doesn't want to go home empty handed. It would be a dream to win a trophy in his first year here, but Marshall knows he must become a first-team regular now.

"I have been going at it pretty hard all year and now I get the opportunity to try and push forward for the end of the season, which is pretty rare coming from New Zealand - the guys on the outside of the squad probably don't get an opportunity like this in the first team, which is pretty cool," he says.

"I will try and get as much game-time, you can do as much training as you like but it doesn't really prepare for the game-time where the contact is the big thing."

Irish Independent

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