World Cup will be the Hunger Games for Ireland, says Marshall

BOUNCE OF THE BALL: Munster hooker Rhys Marshall, in line to start in the Pro14 clash with Zebre in Thomond Park on Saturday, feels Ireland can’t be faulted for effort, as nothing went right last Saturday against Wales. Picture: Laszlo Geczo

Rhys Marshall has backed Ireland to turn their Six Nations disappointment into a ‘really hungry’ World Cup campaign when the national team heads to Japan this autumn. Ireland signed off from the 2019 championship in the worst possible manner last Saturday when they were humbled by a Grand Slam-clinching Wales, who promptly replaced Joe Schmidt’s side as number two in the overall rankings, behind world champions New Zealand.

Schmidt’s fellow New Zealander Marshall, the Munster hooker, believes the 25-7 defeat to Wales will have registered back home with a rugby nation still poring over the All Blacks’ loss in Dublin only last November — but warned against anyone believing Ireland are a spent force.

“Nothing went right on Saturday for the Irish,” Marshall said. “They tried everything and that’s one thing you have to give them credit for. It just felt like everything the Irish tried, no matter how hard they tried, it was just… you could never fault them for effort, it was just the bounce of the ball and the rub of the green, as bad as it sounds, just wasn’t quite with them.

“I think it was the fact that it was such an incredible year last year for the Irish and sometimes people get caught up and think it’s going to carry on that way forever because you look at the All Blacks [doing that].

“The All Blacks, every team, have those blips as well. I think amongst a lot of people it will give them hope [that Ireland are no longer contenders] and amongst a few other people like me, it will give you a fear going into the World Cup. That the Irish have not performed as well as they could or expected they would in the Six Nations, they could turn up to the World Cup really, really hungry.”

Marshall, in line to start at hooker when the Guinness PRO14 campaign resumes with the visit of Zebre to Thomond Park this Saturday night, also believes Munster can benefit from Ireland’s below-par Six Nations as Test stars return to the fold either this weekend or in advance of the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Edinburgh the following Saturday. And there will be no need to put a smile back on their faces, he insisted.

“It’s an opportunity. The boys will be coming back from camp heading into the quarter-final. You have a couple of lads who haven’t played quite so much with Ireland who will hopefully be involved this weekend or come back into the frame.”

Marshall, 26, is looking forward to getting involved in the business end of Munster’s season having overcome a calf injury and hamstring problems. He started in the narrow defeat at Scarlets last time out on March 2, that has left his side trailing Glasgow Warriors by three points in Conference A. Now with four regular season games left to try and secure a home play-off semi-final, he is relishing the competition for places with fellow hookers Kevin O’Byrne, Mike Sherry, and Niall Scannell, newly returned from the Six Nations.

“I’m looking forward to hopefully putting some games together without any niggles… You’ll always carry a niggle or a bump, but touch wood, going into these last few games hopefully I can get a good run. And you have somebody like Niall coming back who is probably in some of the best condition I’ve seen him in since I got here and that’s good for us because you have to push him and he pushes me. Then you have OB (Kevin O’Byrne) and Mike Sherry and then we were training with the Academy lads for three days and they have more energy than you realise and they’re fitter than you and you’re thinking: ‘That was me only a couple of years ago’, I was actually playing tighthead at one stage and thinking: ‘Jeepers, there could be a move here!’”

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