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Having only a few hours to contemplate his first Super Rugby start did not phase Rhys Marshall as he put in a mature performance for the Chiefs in their impressive 41-27 win over the Highlanders on Friday night.
The rookie 20-year-old hooker, who has yet to play NPC rugby, got the callup to start after former All Black Hika Elliot failed a fitness test.
With Mahonri Schwalger also injured, Marshall was suddenly thrust into the job.
A neat first touch to put a team-mate into space was just the start of an evening of excellent work for Marshall as the Chiefs' tight five got the better of their opponents.
"It was a bloody good hitout," Marshall said a day after his debut. "I found out I was playing in the morning. I'm the kind of guy who has to keep my nerves on occasions like that under wraps, so I just had to do what I would do for any game and it seemed to do me right."
The new Taranaki recruit received plenty of support from his team-mates before the game.
"I got plenty from Craig [Clarke], actually, and the fellas helped me keep a lid on things," he said. "I found the game quick, real quick, but I found it manageable, which amazed me. I was able to put in place things that we did at training."
Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry has a reputation for demanding plenty of hard work from his forwards at training, something Marshall said had him conditioned to handle the step up with relative ease.
"He's also given me plenty of confidence to know I have the skills," he said.
Marshall could not believe how dominant the Chiefs scrum was early and although he got "a bit bashed up" a few times, he felt he handled the physical demands of the match well enough.
"To be honest, it was probably the best way to start for me," he said. "Not having to worry about sitting on the bench and having time to think about things and start wondering. I'm a chronic overthinker and I probably would have dug myself into a hole if I was on the sidelines."
Having his parents, Ian and Robyn, in the stands made the night even more special.
Clarke was satisfied equally with bagging five points and the fact the defending champions suffered no injuries.
"Going into the first round you are always a bit nervous on how you are going to go, so we're pretty chuffed to score a few tries and withstand some pressure and finish strong."
Clarke, who said last week that he was off to Ireland at the end of the season, was delighted with the confidence of his side and how several players, including Marshall, stepped up.
"They really fronted and that pleased me," he said. "I think we put a stake in the ground in that game and we've got some high standards to maintain."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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