Capped 11 times by Ireland, Marshall made an eye-catching cameo from the bench in last week’s defeat against the Stormers after returning from a serious knee injury and has been paired with James Hume in the centre for the Pretoria clash.
Hume is looking forward to renewing his partnership with Marshall in the Ulster midfield and hailed the influence the former Ballymena Academy centre had on him while he was breaking through.
“Lukey’s a very natural leader on the pitch, even though he doesn’t try to be,” said Hume. “His voice when I was younger...I’m only 23 but when I was even younger, like 21, when I was playing with him, what I noticed was how precise his communication was in defence.
“He reads the game so well, then obviously in attack he’s unbelievable at running those short lines.
“It’s been a tough time for him but I’m ecstatic to see him back and play alongside him.”
Ulster will be playing at altitude this afternoon and Hume remembers the last time he played above sea level against the Cheetahs.
“The one thing I remember is thinking to myself ‘we’ve got to be 72 minutes in here at least’ and I looked up at the clock and it was 54 and I was like ‘oh my God’.
“My legs and chest were on fire, we tried to match the tempo and the pace that the Cheetahs played with and they were coming off the back of the Currie Cup win, so we had put ourselves in a tough position already.
“It’ll be altered this week, it’ll be a different game plan, we’ll be a bit more sensible about what we’re doing.”
Altitude or not, Hume would be trying to modify his all-action style.
“I don’t think you can pace yourself in rugby, you just have to play your game and deal with how much harder it’s going to be in the last 15, 20 minutes,” he said. “Maybe throughout the game you can slow things down, there were more water breaks during the game at the weekend, which I think the guys appreciated, guys coming on with wet towels and wrapping them around their necks.
“That stuff is different from home, you wouldn’t be wrapping an ice-cold towel around your neck at Kingspan on a Friday night!”
Hume is hoping his preparation for the game will stand him in good stead.
“Any teams away to South Africa have had a tough time, it’s unbelievably tough conditions, very warm with fast playing teams,” he said. “I’ve done my homework and the team know the plan this week, we know where they’re weak and it’s our job to work in training on how to exploit that.
“I won’t go into details on where they’re weak because that would be stupid, we’re prepared for another massive game.
“We know it’ll be chaotic at times, but it’s how we centre ourselves and our game.”
McFarland makes 10 changes from the team that lost in Cape Town last week.
Captain Iain Henderson returns to the second row, Andy Warwick wins his 150th cap while Brad Roberts starts at hooker.
Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney are restored to the backrow.
There is a new half back pairing in Nathan Doak and Ian Madigan while Ben Moxham and Ethan claim the wing berths.
Ulster team to play Vodacom Bulls (United Rugby Championship round 14, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, live on SuperSport, Premier Sports & URC TV): (15-9) Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy, Ian Madigan, Nathan Doak; (1-8) Andrew Warwick, Brad Roberts, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (captain), Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Mick Kearney, Matty Rea, John Cooney, Marcus Rea, Stewart Moore.
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