Home debut can't come quick enough
Luke Marhsall makes a break against Scotland at Murrayfield.
Luke Marhsall is tackled by Scotland's Tim Visser in Murrayfield.
When Luke Marshall’s dad walked into his kitchen the day after his son’s debut in Murrayfield, he looked at the table and shook his head in disbelief. His boy had laid out the green number 12 jersey from a day before, alongside the number 13 jersey which Brian O’Driscoll, in a typically classy touch, had given him. Richard Marshall shook his head and smiled some more.
O’Driscoll initially gave Marshall his jersey in the dressing-room afterwards before the customary post-match exchange with their Scottish counterparts, but after it was laundered, it was returned to O’Driscoll. “I thought I’d lost it,” admits Marshall, “but the next Wednesday Brian came in at dinner time back at the Carton and gave it to me.”
Luke had already emulated his grandfather Reid, his father Richard and his older brother Daniel by playing for Ulster schools. But for a family steeped in rugby, this was something else. He and his dad chatted about the day before and not only reflected on Luke finishing the game with another legend, Ronan O’Gara, playing inside him as well as O’Driscoll outside him, but with a Lions’ back three of Keith Earls, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.
Two days ago in the Carton House, having turned 22 last Sunday, Marshall was still in a boyish, pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming mode. Yet, amongst pretty much ticking every box as an inside centre, he also has a sound temperament.
He can become a little nervous on days of games, but in Edinburgh he was afflicted more by excitement than nerves. “The night before the match I didn’t sleep that well. But it was the buzz. There were no nerves. The only time the nerves start hitting me was when I came out of the hotel and all the Irish fans were outside the Balmoral. The streets were lined and then when the anthems were played the nerves came out again. But as soon as the game starts it’s fine.”
It helps when you make a couple of line breaks off passes from your long-time pal Paddy Jackson, the only blemish aside from a result he still can’t fathom being a failure to hit Craig Gilroy with a try-scoring pass off the first. “I was aware that Tim Visser was coming behind Craig and I thought if I make him check with the pass Visser could catch him, so it had to be in front of him. But I still should have made it. I was disappointed with myself.”
Shakes his head
Since he began playing for Ballymena mini rugby at the age of six this is all he’s ever wanted to do. Ask him if he hadn’t been a rugby player what would he imagine himself doing and he simply shakes his head.
Competing with two older brothers, Patrick and Daniel, toughened him from an early age too. “Yeah, that’s what my dad always says to me. When I was playing at school and boys who would go down easy on the pitch he would always say ‘they mustn’t have older brothers’.”
It was also inspiring to see Daniel play for Ulster schools against Leinster schools in Ravenhill when Marshall was still in upper sixth class. “I can remember just being so proud of him, and sort of saying, ‘that’s what I want to do’.”