Schmidt backs Ulster stars to shine against Scotland

Luke Marshall 'will start Sunday's 6 Nations opener against Scotland
Luke Marshall 'will start Sunday's 6 Nations opener against Scotland

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has backed Ulster duo Luke Marshall and Andrew Trimble to shine on the big stage on Sunday.

The Irish are preparing to kick-off their RBS 6 Nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.

Marshall has been handed a starting berth for the opener after Gordon D’Arcy picked up a stomach bug.

Head coach Schmidt has hailed the Ulster centre’s Heineken Cup form as the deciding factor in giving the 22-year-old the nod to step in for D’Arcy.

Marshall helped Ulster complete their first-ever 100 per cent group-stage record in the Heineken Cup, including doing the double over Leicester and winning in Montpellier.

Stalwart centre D’Arcy, 33, returned to full training after suffering a stomach upset at the start of the week, but was off the pace.

The 75-cap centre will therefore not get the chance on Sunday to extend his glittering, long-term partnership with Brian O’Driscoll, who will win a record 129th cap against the Scots.

But former New Zealand schoolteacher Schmidt backed four-cap Marshall to shine this weekend, especially when flanked by Johnny Sexton and O’Driscoll in Ireland’s back line.

“Luke Marshall has played really well in the Heineken Cup in big games,” Schmidt said.

“He played in the Six Nations last year and played very well against Scotland.

“I thought he played well against Australia in the autumn too. He made a defensive error at one stage, but he’s learning all the time. He’s working hard at everything we’re trying to do.

“He’s between Johnny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll, so experience-wise, he’s a bit inexperienced but either side of him he has two players who can help him navigate his way through the game.

“Luke got a little bit more of the training time and would feel a little bit more comfortable.”

Wing Luke Fitzgerald is battling an ongoing hip complaint, paving the way for Trimble to make his first international appearance since last summer.

“Andrew brings a bit of size, up against Lamont and Maitland,” Schmidt said.

“We just don’t have that many sizeable men, barring dragging Shaggy [Shane Horgan] down from the commentary box!

“We don’t have too many men of that size and stature, so Andrew is a good contrast for us.

“And, to be fair to Andrew, he’s played very well in the last couple of games, and from that respect he deserves an opportunity.”