Ulster’s front row crisis will see Alan Whitten on bench duty on Friday night when Brian McLaughlin’s unbeaten side host Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill.
With BJ Botha, Declan Fitzpatrick and Adam Macklin all in dry dock suffering from injuries — and Botha the only one of that trio returning in the near future — McLaughlin has called on Whitten to bail him out.
Whitten — the brother of Ulster centre, Ian — was not one of the 29 named yesterday. But when asked about the fact that the squad includes only three props — Tom Court, Bryan Young and Paddy McAllister — McLaughlin confirmed that the Instonians’ front row forward will be on duty tomorrow night.
“We’ve brought in young Whitten and he’s going to cover for us on Friday night. He’ll be there this week and after that we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with BJ.
“There’s no bone damage done — the x-rays and the scan show that. So it’s just a matter now of getting the swelling out of the wrist so that we can get another look at it.
“We’ll know a whole lot more next week,” he said.
Botha’s unavailability really would leave Ulster up against it for their Heineken Cup kick-off against Aironi next Friday night so it’s going to be a case of fingers very tightly crossed in the countdown to October 8.
But while the Springbok’s absence is a concern, the availability of two of his fellow-countrymen for tomorrow night is a massive double whammy for Ulster.
Ruan Pienaar will play, though McLaughlin was unable to say whether the South African will start or be introduced from the bench.
“We’ll see,” was all he would offer.
Pienaar’s debut has been eagerly awaited since news of him signing for Ulster broke four months ago. Now the long wait is almost over.
The other South African-shaped plus is the return of Johann Muller, who was rested last weekend against Connacht.
The Springboks’ former captain is back in contention for a berth in the engine room and with back row pair Pedrie Wannenburg and Robbie Diack also among the 15 forwards named, that means four of Ulster’s five South Africans are likely to feature against Glasgow.
And there is yet another huge lift, with Scottish international wing Simon Danielli finally fit to make his first appearance of the season. His availability a week before the Heineken Cup kicks off means Ulster are getting closer to full strength, although those front row injuries coupled with Stephen Ferris’s latest problem are on-going causes for concern.
Paddy Wallace will revert to the centre against Glasgow, which means McLaughlin again must choose between Niall O’Connor and Ian Humphreys for the all-important out-half’s role.
Wallace wore 10 in Galway last weekend at the behest of Irish coach Declan Kidney who was keen to see him in that role.
“It was a learning curve again because it’s so long since I’d played there,” Wallace admitted.
“There were stages of the game where the team built momentum and I was getting my hands on the ball, which I really enjoyed.
“But then there were occasions too when, as a squad, we didn’t get our basic first and second phase right which made it quite hard to generate momentum.”