Wednesday 25 April 2018

'It would be awesome to play against a great team like Toulon'

Former Chief has his eyes on retaining No 2 starter's jersey for exciting run-in to season

Rhys Marshall wants to make up for lost time after an interrupted campaign last season. Photo: Sportsfile
Rhys Marshall wants to make up for lost time after an interrupted campaign last season. Photo: Sportsfile

Daragh Small

Niall Scannell was called up to the Irish squad this week, as Joe Schmidt looks to find cover for the injured Rob Herring, but it could well be his Munster team-mate Rhys Marshall who locks down the No 2 jersey for the crucial Champions Cup quarter-final with Toulon.

That March 31 Thomond Park date looms large on the horizon for the Kiwi shepherd, and Marshall cannot wait to fight for his chance in that match-day squad.

A recent Champions Cup concussion kept Marshall on the sidelines, but he made his reappearance in Munster's 39-13 bonus-point win over Connacht at Thomond Park.

He has played against Racing 92, Castres and Cardiff Blues since then, but with Niall Scannell, Mike Sherry and Kevin O'Byrne for competition, Marshall can never take it easy.

"The thing about the other hookers is that they are really good rugby players," says Marshall.

"The team was doing well so I was more than happy for them to be playing and doing well while I was out.

"It adds competition and it's actually really good for the squad."

The Tikorangi native, who used to work in Hawke's Bay, joined Munster on a three-year contract in October 2016.

He flourished under Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in his first campaign, and since their departure Johann van Graan has proved an able replacement.

"Things are being done a little bit differently around here this year. There is quite a cool vibe going on in the camp. I probably haven't experienced it before," says Marshall.

"There is a fair bit of honesty going on. Guys are putting their hand up and saying they could work harder or they have been working as hard as they can.

"It's really influenced by Johann. He really wants people to take ownership of his campaign. It is very cool."

Marshall played 22 times for Chiefs in Super Rugby and was on the replacements' bench when they beat Brumbies 27-22 to claim the title five years ago.

But the former New Plymouth Boys High School student still believes Champions Cup rugby is something special. And a game against three-time winners Toulon is a mouth-watering prospect.

"There is still plenty to do and we are missing our internationals at the moment which is actually very good for the players who get a crack to make the coach's job a lot harder," Marshall adds.

"When Europe comes around again, it would be pretty awesome to play against a great team like Toulon. We just need to nail off these next couple of weeks with good systems, good head space and get through them.

Focused

"We are aiming to win and build momentum going into that quarter-final."

But for now he is focused on game time in the Guinness PRO14, and he wants to make up for lost time after a mid-season wobble. The 25-year-old spent a month out due to a concussion sustained against Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup.

It was a worrying time for the former Chief, but he found clarity of mind and body, through some unconventional-sounding means.

After he left the field on December 9, Marshall had to rest up, and then he was sent to see an eye and ear specialist at West Limerick Physiotherapy and Neuro-rehabilitation Clinic in Newcastle West.

"You are putting concentrating on the wall a bit. You have to focus on your gaze on certain points until you irritate it slightly and then the mind will realise it's your eye and not your head," says Marshall.

"It was great to get a diagnosis. It gave me so much more confidence. Once I knew it was less in my head and more in my eyes, that was half the battle.

"But it was nice to get it right and now I concentrate on the second part of the year."

Marshall is back fit and ready to go now and with just three games remaining before the Pool 4 winners step out into the quarter-finals once again, there is little time left to impress.

And even when he is not in training or game mode, he still loves to immerse himself in rugby. He has become a big fan of his adopted country and thinks they are destined for greatness in this Six Nations.

"I have been watching the lads in action with Ireland. The Welsh played bloody well to only concede two penalties in the entire game against England. They will be a tough ask for Ireland," says Marshall.

"It's great here. The Six Nations is very different here, being amongst it all, rather than being back in New Zealand and watching it on replay. 

"And I really hope Ireland get to that Twickenham game. Joe Schmidt and the guys have been impressive so far and would be such an occasion if it was a Six Nations and Grand Slam decider.

"Ireland played unbelievably well against Italy. Especially in the first half, where they just went out there and showed what they are capable of.

"But I love rugby, I am a big fan as well as playing the game. I finished watching the Brisbane 10s a few weeks ago and now it's on to the Super Rugby season. I'll keep an eye on that too.

"It's a great time of the year, and then once the international boys come back here in Munster we can start to look forward to the Champions Cup quarter-final. It's an exciting time for everyone."

Irish Independent

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