Luke Marshall is set to make his first appearance in almost a year for Ulster if he is called off the bench for Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.
His last appearance in the Ulster colours was on the final day of last season in May when he was helping the Province qualifying for this season’s Champions Cup.
Ulster had failed to gain automatic qualification and their 100 per cent record of playing in Europe every season was in danger of ending.
But they secured a win over Ospreys in a play-off game and took their place.
Marshall suffered an ACL injury which meant a long painful road to recovery.
And while his inclusion today is probably more of necessity given Ulster’s midfield injury roster, head coach Dan McFarland has every faith in the centre and said he was ready to go.
“It’s great for Lukey,” McFarland said. “The last time he played was against Ospreys, running across the pitch to make a try-saving tackle with three other Ulster players that was absolutely crucial at the time.
“It sums up who he is as a player, his willingness to give everything he has for the team. It’s really good to see him back and ready to play.”
He added: “Lukey’s done a lot of training, he’s up to the kind of speed that there will be in the game.
“He may not be used to the physical intensity and collisions and impacts that go on.
“But in terms of the speed of our training and the uncertainty of our training, he’s done a lot of that. So he’s ready to go.”
Darren Cave has recovered from a rib injury sustained last weekend and starts in the midfield alongside Stuart McCloskey, while prop Marty Moore, another doubt from last week, passed his return to play protocols following concussion.
McFarland was handed a huge boost when Iain Henderson was given the all clear having suffered a knee sprain playing for Ireland against France in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium three weeks ago.
McFarland said: “There’s been a little bit of up and down in terms of prepping them, but the medical and athletic performance staff have done a really good job in terms of getting these guys ready and ready to play. Great to have them available.”
In terms of what Ulster needed to do to halt Leinster’s defence of the trophy, McFarland said: “When Leinster play with consistently fast ball you are in trouble, you can get knocked down and not be able to get back up.
“That is a risk for any side playing against Leinster. One of the things we will have to be able to do is slow down the pace of their play.
“We’ll need some of our best play in our defence to slow down the speed of their attack. And in terms of our attacking intent, we’ll have to make sure we hold onto the ball.”