'I hopped into my '92 Ford Mondeo and turned up covered in blood' - Rhys Marshall 8 months ago

'I hopped into my '92 Ford Mondeo and turned up covered in blood' - Rhys Marshall

Casual as and Kiwi as you can get.

Rhys Marshall is the living epitome of a no worries New Zealander, but don't mistake him for someone who is not willing to work his ass off to get what he wants.

Monday morning in the Munster gym and Marshall is in, along with Keith Earls, to do a bit of rehab work. He played in the final game of the regular season but a foot injury flared up and he is tipping away at the gym in the hopes of getting back for the semi final or, if Munster get there, the final.

This November will mark the third year since Marshall first arrived in Limerick and, with most Irish eyes on the World Cup, he will become qualified to line out for the men in green. "Now it's coming up real quick and the missus is going, 'Well, we've got to make a bloody plan'."

Marshall will head home to New Zealand, when the season wraps, and decompress before getting back to Munster for 2019/20. With so many senior stars expected to be part of Joe Schmidt's squad, in Japan, Marshall's playing presence in Munster will be vital.

In all likelihood he will feature for Ireland once he satisfies the residency rule and he could well be duking it out with Niall Scannell for the No.2 role, at provincial and international level, for years to come.

Back at the gym, though, and in conversation with former Munster centre Barry Murphy [from 16:30 below], the 26-year-old is happy to go back to his early days in New Zealand and an unlikely path that eventually led to him fulfilling the wish of his late grandfather and setting off for Thomond Park.

Rhys Marshall makes a break despite the attention of Leinster players, from left, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath and Tadhg Furlong. (Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile)

Marshall comes from a family that are steeped in farming and in rugby. Both his father and grandfather played at provincial level, for Taranaki, and he looked set to follow in their foot-steps by showing real talent, and potential, at underage level.

His name was not exactly hopping off the scouting reports, all the same, and his call-up to the New Zealand U20s training squad came at late notice. So late, indeed, that Marshall had to belt over from the farm to get to the camp in time. He recalls:

"After schools (rugby), things didn't really pan out and I wasn't on a whole load of radars, or anything, in terms of New Zealand schools or academies. So my other love in life was farming. I went over to the other side of the country and it probably worked out to be the best decision I ever made - I went working for two years."

He did not give up on his rugby dreams, however, but that push to get his body right and stay on top of his game, at club level, saw him wind up with septicemia (blood poisoning), a spell in hospital and dramatic weight loss.

He felt his chance was gone but, out of sheer hopefulness verging on stubbornness, he got back in shape in a makeshift gym on the farm and stuffed in the tuna, three times a day. The call for a trial with the U20s eventually did come and Marshall had to get his skates on.

"Next thing, I get a phone call and it's, 'Rhys, where are ya? The trials are underway'. I was like, 'Aww, shit'.

"I hopped in my '92 Ford Mondeo and I turned up with my knife-belt on - I'd been killing sheep - my Swandry on and I was covered in blood. I had an old army rucksack so I flung stuff in and flew over there. It was a four-day trial and I had missed the first two days. They'd had a scrum session with Josh Cronfield that I had missed so I was pretty pissed off... but that's what happens when you're not in the mix."

Despite the late call-up, Marshall did make the New Zealand squad for the 2012 Junior World Championships. Within 12 months he was called into the Chiefs' Super Rugby squad.

All was going well but his throwing fell apart, he says, and it affected his confidence. He decided to tackle the issue by throwing 2,500 to 3,000 times a week but it was paralysis by analysis. A bright start at Chiefs tapered off and he was only going to get offered an injury-cover contract heading into 2016. That is when former Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus got in touch.

"Rassie called me, and I knew who he was but I didn't know that he was in a coaching role. He told me he was at Munster and was interested in signing me. I thought that it must be as injury cover but he said, 'No, we're interested in signing you and getting the IRFU involved'."

Around that time, Marshall's grandfather became ill and Rhys spent quite a lot of time with him. During one of their rugby-filled chats, Marshall mentioned that Munster were interested in signing him. Granddad was rapt.

"He was always a Munster man. Ever since Munster beat the All Blacks, it has always been a legend at home... My family being absolutely rugby heads, that still stings!

"Once I told granddad about Munster, he said, 'You can't not do it'."

That was the nudge Marshall needed and he agreed to head 20,000 kilometres to Limerick to start a new rugby advanture.

"For him to give me that seal of approval, I was gone," Marshall adds. "Well, granddad passed away about three weeks after [that chat] so dad and I had a couple of whiskeys at the airport and I was on the plane."

Marshall arrived in Munster on a Monday, played Ospreys on a Friday and faced off against the Maori All Blacks on the following Saturday. Breakneck and filled with rugby. He couldn't have been happier.

He has raced past the half century of Munster caps and should collect many, many more as he is contracted up with the province until 2021, at least.

All going well, trophies will feature over his time in Limerick and there will be Test caps for his adopted country.

His granddad was always proud. This is just the cherry.