Rhys Marshall: My granddad used to talk about Munster

Munster's Rhys Marshall at a Press Conference in UL.

Rhys Marshall makes light of riding a horse around a farm of 5,500 hectares for 12 hours, five days a week over two years and rounding up 28,000 sheep in the process.

But he is virtually stuck for words when it comes to describing his emotions when lining out in a Munster rugby jersey in front of a packed Thomond Park Stadium.

Last autumn, the 24-year-old from Taranaki turned his back on rugby in New Zealand and quit his life as a shepherd for a fresh career as a project player with Munster. And there hasn’t been a second of regret.

“The first week over here, we played down in Cork and it was unreal ... a capacity crowd with everyone singing and I was thinking ‘what is this?’ 

"But that was only a warm-up to Thomond Park the following week against the Maori. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

“It is unreal to play in that kind of atmosphere. I have not experienced anything like it. In New Zealand it is a bit harsher, a bit more critical. 

"Here it’s a lot more supportive ... there are lots of people with better things to be doing but they turn up every week. It’s unreal.

“They all give me a hard time when they call me from back home but that’s just how it feels. It’s like when Taranaki made the semi- finals the year before last and 9,000 people turned up to support us. 

"They were just the vocal and real passionate ones but you multiply that by two or three and that’s what you get in Thomond Park. That is home to me.”

And he got another taste of how much rugby means to the people of Ireland when watching Joe Schmidt’s side record their historic victory over the All Blacks in Chicago last October.

He recalled: “I had only been here a couple of weeks but again that was really cool. My dad was over and we went to the pub and we were the only people there supporting the All Blacks. 

"The Irish there were unbelievable. You had a handful of men crying.

“My family is rugby and we love it and to see that passion and emotion for the game was incredible. 

"I had a lot of Scottish friends (back in New Zealand) and they used to be absolutely mad when the Six Nations games were on.

“We’d all pack into a house and Ireland versus England was awesome to watch. It would be early on a Sunday, wake up, march up the road, champagne breakfast and enjoy the game.”

Marshall gave up rugby for a couple of years to become a shepherd in Hawkes Bay.

“I worked on a 5,500-hectare station and I think we had about 28,000 ewes and lambs,” he explained.

“There were 22 of us working on the station on horseback. They pretty much teach you everything, how to break a horse, how to train a dog, shearing sheep, fencing, everything agricultural along with your studies. 

"There is a pub, a rugby club, and a station. That’s all. You are an hour and a half from anywhere. 

"They are still probably a few of my favourite years. We worked hard Monday to Friday, no beers, you don’t touch the stuff. 

"Saturday/Sunday you play your (rugby) game, you have a few beers and then you repeat it all over again.

“I was on a horse all day. You had to be horsed up and ready to go at 5am, have breakfast, out the door at 5.30 and home at 7pm. 

"The worst thing was you don’t eat and drink, you are on a horse, you just don’t stop, you are on the go constantly because the farm is so big.

“Before that, I was on the New Zealand U20 team but we were beaten in the World Cup final by South Africa. When I got home from South Africa, the Chiefs, out of nowhere, offered me a deal to go straight into Super Rugby.”

But that contract was not forthcoming last year and he says “once the Munster idea came up, I didn’t give it a second thought because knowing Munster’s history and how passionate they are and all the legacy that is with them – my granddad used to talk about Munster, everyone talks about Munster – and so for my family and myself, it was a no-brainer.”

As a project player, he will be eligible to play for Ireland in three years time, a prospect he looks upon with realistic expectations.

“Obviously I have had a huge change in my goals over the last three or four months,” he says.

“If in three years, I can get to play for Ireland – fantastic. I want to become a world-class hooker and I’m in a great place to do it.”


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