Luke Marshall says pressure is on Ulster for Edinburgh encounter
Guinness PRO14: Ulster v Edinburgh (Friday, 7.35pm, live on BBC Two)
WHILE he hasn't given up on the prospect of adding to his 11 international caps, Luke Marshall's primary focus at present is with Ulster and he says the pressure is on as they prepare to face Edinburgh in a crucial PRO14 clash at the Kingspan Stadium tonight.
The Ballymena man made his first appearance since October in last week's facile 59-10 win over Southern Kings. That came after recovering from an Achilles' tendon injury and has retained his place in the line-up for tonight's game.
Just three points separate the two teams in Conference B, with Ulster holding the edge as Richard Cockerill's side bid to became the first from Scotland to win in Belfast since 2013.
Marshall first played for Ireland in the 2012 autumn international series in the uncapped game against Fiji and made his full debut in a Six Nations defeat by Scotland the following year.
However, his injury put paid to any hope of being picked for this year's tournament and he is now concentrating on getting back to match-fitness after that lengthy lay-off.
“I had the injury last year at the end of the season. It wasn't a tear, it just kept flaring up and it was pretty bad during the Japan tour [with Ireland last summer], then it settled down during the pre-season,” he said.
“It wasn't perfect but then it just got worse and it got to the point where I couldn't run on it any more. So I had to take time out and do rehab again to get it right.
“Obviously match fitness is totally different to normal conditioning but I feel good and am looking forward to the rest of the season.
“As for Ireland, there's obviously a lot of competition for the 13 jersey. There's a lot of players putting their hands up.
“Chris Farrell of Munster and Bundi [Aki] have come through, and it's frustrating that I wasn't available to put my hand up. But I might not have been in the squad anyway.”
Marshall (below), who will be again be joined by Stuart McCloskey in the Ulster midfield, expects Edinburgh to provide formidable opposition tonight.
The appointment of former England hooker Cockerill, following his sacking by Leicester Tigers, has coincided with a revival in their fortunes this season.
They will travel to Belfast in confident mood following a 29-24 bonus-point win over Leinster last week in which Marshall's opposite number, Scottish international Mark Bennett, scored the match-winning try.
“I've played against him a few times when he was with Glasgow. He's a very good player and unlucky not to be involved in the Scottish set-up,” he said.
“It'll be a challenge for me playing against him. He's a lot of pace and good skills, so it'll be a tough evening.
“They're going well. Richard Cockerill has definitely done a good job. They play decent rugby, quite forward-orientated with a physical edge.
“They are reaping the benefits of some of the signings they have made like Bennett coming in and Robbie Fruen and they have a lot of good players.”
“Obviously it is a must-win game, then we have (second-placed) Scarlets after that, so we're getting to the stage were we don't really want to slip up many more times. The pressure is on really.”
Ulster head coach Jono Gibbes has made four changes to the side that crushed the Kings with Rob Herring, who has been released from Ireland duty, starting at hooker.
Louis Ludik comes in a full-back for the injured Charles Piutau and, in another straight swap, Tommy Bowe replaces left wing Rob Lyttle, who is out for six weeks with a hamstring problem picked up last week.
South African number eight Jean Deysel, whose appearances have been limited due to a series of injuries, returns to take the place of Sean Reidy, who was another of last Friday night's casualties.
Guinness PRO14 Fixtures
Connacht v Zebre, Glasgow v Cheetahs, Ospreys v Kings, Ulster v Edinburgh
Leinster v Scarlets (3.15pm), Cardiff v Munster (5.30pm)
Sunday (3.30pm): Dragons v Treviso