There will be no love lost at Thomond Park on Saturday when south meets west in the final game of the regular season as Connacht visit Limerick to play their last game as league champions while Munster gear up to succeed them as titleholders with a final run before the play-offs.
Connacht look set for a Champions Cup qualification play-off later this month against either an English Premiership or French Top 14 club, depending on their final league position as they prepare to say goodbye to head coach Pat Lam, who will depart for Bristol once the province’s European fate for next season is decided.
Munster hooker Marshall, 24, will have more than a passing interest in how the westerners move on from Lam as he has first-hand experience of the incoming Connacht head coach, his former Chiefs boss Kieran Keane, whom he believes will have an equally impressive impact on the province as his predecessor.
“I was two years under Kieran. He is a good bloke. He has a very good rugby head on him,” New Zealander Marshall said. “He is a man that enjoys a laugh. He’s someone who is a student of the game, so he is very, very accurate in what he does. He took a Tasman side from the bottom of the Championship into the Premiership and got them into two finals as an ITM Cup side.
“That was what really stood him out. He knows how to interact with players and he knows how to get the best out of them, that’s what makes him a pretty good coach.
“I’m expecting exciting things. Kieran’s got a very good way of finding holes in someone’s defence or finding ways to exploit other teams. Now, it’s very exciting because where (Connacht) are now is, they’re an exceptional side. The way they play ball in hand they are one of the better teams who can attack with ball in hand. So yes, I think he’s just going to get them and run with them. I think they are going to be a very good side.”
There are plenty of former colleagues from home facing Munster on Saturday and Marshall is looking forward to the reunion, although Connacht centre Bundee Aki will be out through suspension.
“I played with Bundee for a year and also played with Jake Heenan, who was my New Zealand U20s captain, so played with both of those blokes when I was at home.
“Bundee’s Bundee but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be playing this week, which is a shame for them because he is a bloody good player.
“They’re a team that suits both of those players, they play from anywhere and they play what’s on, which is outstanding. It’s great, running rugby.
“Jake’s had plenty of injuries. He has been a while here now, but he’s had many setbacks, and the testament of the bloke is how he bounces back and keeps knocking the door down.”
Marshall has had some knocking on the door of his own to do since joining Munster on a three-year contract from the Chiefs and his ITM Cup side Taranaki last October. His 21 appearances in red have featured just nine starts as he has had to settle for an understudy role to Niall Scannell. Indeed five of those starts came while Scannell was on Six Nations duty with Ireland in February and March.
“I don’t really see it as a rivalry,” he said. “I see myself here to push Scans as hard as I can. If the shoe was on the other foot, I would expect nothing different and the way he has played this year, he has kicked on, I am almost proud of that because you feel like you, not directly, but you have an influence on that.
“So it is not really a rivalry, it is probably trying about to push each other into a good spot going into the weekends.”
Marshall feels the relationship between himself and Scannell has been mutually beneficial and he picked up the man of the match award in his last start, last Saturday’s bonus-point Pro12 win at Treviso, although he believes there is plenty more to come from himself as he adjusts to life at Munster.
“There is still plenty to work on, a few things I do well in one game and then lapse in another which is irritating, so you go out and play and in one aspect you do well and you miss a couple of opportunities in another.
“So you are always chasing the ideal game or the perfect game, but for me, it is the work we do during the week and how it is frontloaded that it is helping me, so you can get your work done and it is almost instinctive, an instinct at the weekend if you do enough reps of it.
“It is improving, which is nice.”