herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Olding to push both D'Arcy and Marshall hard for a place in the centre with Ireland

It may have been nothing and it may have been everything.

When Jared Payne was forced away from the action with what turned out to be a hip-joint injury - he is expected to be out for two weeks - Luke Marshall was called into the centre for Ulster against the Scarlets in the 48th minute.

The problem for Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss is that he was landed into a problem where the solution revolved around which inside centre - Stuart Olding or Marshall - had to move to the outside.

The decision was for Marshall to take up the post at thirteen, possibly as a reflection of how well Olding was operating at twelve, finishing out the game with five clean breaks.

The 21-year-old was the best Irish player on view over the first weekend of the Guinness PRO12 League. And it would have come as no surprise to those inside the Ulster circle.

Equation

Kiss's selections at home to Zebre and away to Cardiff Blues, where Ireland's Darren Cave should come into the equation for the latter, could well tell if a sea-change in Irish rugby is about to take place for the once-capped Olding.

As Gordon D'Arcy, 34, begins a remarkable 17th season and what could be his last, ahead of the 2015 World Cup, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is still looking to strengthen his resources in all positions.

D'Arcy and Kiss have already spoken of how Marshall has been putting the heat on D'Arcy at camp Ireland. The brutal truth is Marshall's tendency to suffer concussion makes him vulnerable to a real challenge.

He need look no further than Olding.

Paddy Wallace, the man who played second fiddle to D'Arcy for most of his international career, thought Olding "looked to the manor born" against the Scarlets on Saturday, completely outplaying Wales international Scott Williams.

"He had a lot of reputation coming into the game and he lived up to it," added the recently retired Wallace.

The ex-Belfast Royal Academy playmaker was at out-half beside captain Luke McGrath when Ireland won the FIRA European Under-18 Championship for the only time in 2011.

It was then he first appeared on the national radar. He has since made the transition one-further-out to twelve and made his Ireland senior debut against against the USA in June of 2013.

He looked a raging certainty to make a permanent challenge to D'Arcy and Marshall last season until a rupture of his anterior cruciate knee ligaments ruined his plans for club and country.

Olding has had to go back to the drawing-board and has been blessed with the import of Ireland defence coach Les Kiss into Ulster. It should see him fast-tracked for the November international series.

Once there, D'Arcy and Marshall won't have to look over their shoulders. Olding will be right there beside them.

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