Interview: Luke Marshall eyeing Christmas cheer and a place in Joe Schmidt's plans 4 years ago

Interview: Luke Marshall eyeing Christmas cheer and a place in Joe Schmidt's plans

It's tight at the top.

Ulster currently sit fourth in the Pro 12 table, and depending on results this in the coming days, Neil Doak's side could finish the weekend anywhere from first to fifth in the table.

With the top six all in action against each other this weekend, Ulster travel to Swansea to take on an Ospreys side currently level with them on 31 points, one off Munster at the top of the pack.

Ulster ended the Ospreys' unbeaten start to the season when the sides met last month in Belfast, but Ulster head into the game having lost two of their last three, including another visit to Wales last weekend.

Centre Luke Marshall knows that with three games in a row against top six opponents, and their European season in ruins, it's a make or break time of year for them.

"They're (Ospreys) a quality side, and their league form was very good. They gave us a good run over here, and that was without their international contingent, so I think they're definitely going to give us a tough game this week.

"Ospreys are going to be up and around the top four at the end of the season, so we've got to beat them now, and beat the top teams, and we've Connacht on Boxing Day, and they're going to be around the top six anyway, so that's another one we'll need to win, and Leinster after that as well."

Last week's defeat to the Scarlets ended Ulster chances of making the knock-out stage of the Champions Cup, but it marked a return to action for Marshall, who's been sidelined since September with a knee injury.

The 23-year-old  played the full 80 in Llanelli, and despite the result, he says it was great to be back in the thick of it again.

"It was great just to be back playing again and to be playing in a European Cup game, and having that buzz, it was really nice. It just makes you hungry for more, really.

"I was pretty happy with my own performance. I suppose just getting through the 80 minutes without an injury was nice.

"It's just disappointing about the result, you'd trade an individual performance for  team result."

There's been an edge to training this week, he says, with the squad hurting from their European disappointment, and Marshall says the only solution is to take that hurt out on the opposition.

Rory Best dejected after the Champions Cup loss to Toulon. Rory Best dejected after the Champions Cup loss to Toulon.

"You use it to your benefit really, Rory was talking about it in training the other day, about just being really cross with yourself all week. I think we were all disappointed on Sunday night, and probably Monday and Tuesday as well, but Rory said to keep that anger, and use it in a positive way, and taking it out on the Ospreys.

"That's what we're going to try and do. Just bounce back and get back to winning ways."

And Marshall is targeting an extended run in the Ulster side, with ambitions to force his way back into the plans of Joe Schmidt and Ireland.

Marshall missed the November Internationals with his latest injury, but says a phone call from Schmidt has given him plenty of motivation to rediscover the run that saw him make his International debut in the 2013 Six Nations.

"He rang me just after I got injured, just about working hard on my rehab and getting back to fitness as quick as possible. He sort of said, 'Get back playing and if you're playing well you're still in with a shout.'

"It was nice motivation to try and get back fit, and I'm heading down on Sunday to the camp for the day, so it's nice to be in the mix.

"With how well the November series went, and I wasn't part of it, so to get a chance to get back in there, I'm really happy."