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Past heroes inspire Marshall

Guinness PRO12 Editor

13 Jan 2012

As an 18-year-old Paul Marshall stood in awe on the terraces at Ravenhill as he witnessed Ulster achieve one of their greatest ever results – a 33-0 demolition of Leicester Tigers.

Eight years later and scrum-half Marshall has the opportunity to stamp his own mark on Ulster’s history when the Tigers come to town once again with a potential Heineken Cup quarter-final berth on the line. 

Although named on the bench there’s little doubt Marshall will play his part as he did in Ulster’s last match. Coming on as a replacement, Marshall helped set up three Ulster tries in their 42-20 defeat of Edinburgh winning the RaboDirect PRO12 Man of the Match award in the process.

A good week got even better for Marshall when he renewed his contract for two further years with his boyhood club.

But having played in every match so far for Ulster this season, Marshall is in no doubt that the best news of the week might yet be to come.

He said: “I remember the 2004 game very clearly and seeing players like Martin Johnson and Austin Healey who I had only seen on TV before.

“I always liked Austin because he was a scrum-half who was never afraid to try things. That game was one of my best memories as an Ulster supporter and it feels incredible to be part of a repeat game.

“It has been a schoolboy dream for me to play in these sorts of games and to fulfil that dream would mean so much.

“Growing up I have always supported Ulster as a schoolboy and having come through the academy system I never take for granted the privilege of representing Ulster.

“I am glad to get the contract sorted out. You evaluate everything when your contract is up especially as there are talented players in your position.

“But in my heart I always wanted to stay and I am just happy it is done and dusted.”

The talented player referred to by Marshall would be South African international Ruan Pienaar, who simultaneously signed a contract extension.

Marshall accepts that the presence of World Cup winner Pienaar – who has also been capped at fly-half and full-back for his country – will limit his game time.

But far from cursing his presence, the 26-year-old says his rivalry with the 51-cap Springbok has driven his own play to new heights.

He added: “Certainly I have played the best rugby of my career since he has been here.

“Just seeing him play and train has helped me improve, especially with the way he reads the game. He makes me think about how I react to different situations.

“We actually spend a lot of time together in training doing scrum-half drills and away from the pitch he is a smashing guy who I spend time with socially.

“Going forward if Ulster want to compete with the best then they have to recruit the best players and that’s what Ruan is.

“I have played in every game this season and even when I come off the bench I have enough time to make an impact and have an influence on the game.”

Pienaar gets the nod from boss Brian McLaughlin for the crunch clash against Leicester, although unlike eight years ago Ulster will start as favourites.

That is partly a reflection of their tremendous run of form in the RaboDirect PRO12 which has included thumpings of Munster and Edinburgh – a far cry from their sticky autumn period when, for a while, they could not buy a win.

However Marshall always believed there was too much talent at Ravenhill for a temporary blip to become a permanent slide.

He added: “Players don’t change overnight and a team does not become bad because of a couple of defeats.

“We were maybe trying too hard at times and making silly errors which affected our confidence.

“But in the last few weeks we have been scoring and that in turns breeds confidence throughout the team.

“Looking at Leicester they are also on a good run and we know we will have to be right on top of our game to get the win.

“Ben Youngs at scrum-half is a very talented player and you need to make sure you keep one eye on him at all times because he is such a threat.

“It will be a cracking game and hopefully there will be a full house – I can’t wait.”