Ulster's countdown to Friday night’s Magners League clash with Glasgow Warriors is underway and coach Brian McLaughlin is hoping that the autumn’s international calls do not prove to have been detrimental to his side’s promising start to the series.
Captain Paddy Wallace hobbled off at the start of the second quarter of Ireland’s clash with South Africa and Stephen Ferris was unable to continue after half-time.
Both were replaced after picking up ankle injuries and late yesterday afternoon Ravenhill was still waiting for news as to their state of health.
At the close of play on October 31, Ulster lay fourth, a place behind this weekend’s Ravenhill visitors.
And with inclusion in the new knockout stage being the prize for the top four in the 10-club race, the importance of Friday night’s fixture is self-evident given the positions currently occupied by this weekend’s protagonists.
Glasgow and Ulster have 19 points apiece, with the Scots on the higher rung of the ladder by virtue of their slightly better for-against differential.
The rivals have scored the same number of points — 140, an average of 20 per outing. But Glasgow have conceded 110 in comparison to Ulster’s 123.
Glasgow have an outstanding Ravenhill record, witness victories on each of the past three occasions they have come to Belfast in search of Magners League points.
Last season they won the Ravenhill meeting by a point, the match having finished 20-19 in their favour. Glasgow won on the Scottish side of the North Channel, too, their Firhill Arena clash with Ulster having ended 12-0 in their favour.
The season before, the Warriors were 35-24 victors in Belfast and emphatic 25-6 winners in Glasgow.
And in 2006/07 they won 24-10 at Ravenhill, which was the exactly the same scoreline by which Ulster beat Glasgow at Firhill, that being the last occasion on which they defeated the Scots.
So Glasgow are coming to East Belfast buoyed up by the knowledge that they have not lost at Ravenhill since 2005/06, and even then their defeat was by a slender 25-23 margin.
In Dan Parks they boast a player who is odds-on to become the first to have scored 1,000 points in the competition.
Up until the start of the current series the fly-half’s per match return was an outstanding 889 points from 90 matches — 76 starts, 14 as a replacement — the breakdown being 18 tries, 113 conversions, 178 penalties and 13 drop goals.
To date this term he has donated a further 86 points to the Glasgow cause — seven conversions, 22 penalties and a brace of drop goals.
In the Warriors’ most recent Magners League outing — against Ospreys — Parks scored all of his side’s points in a 9-9 draw at Liberty Stadium, taking his tally in the competition to within 25 of the 1,000 landmark.
Since the early years of the decade he and fellow-Scot, Edinburgh full-back Chris Paterson, have been the bane of opponents silly enough to have given them a pot at goal and Ulster will know that they can ill-afford any such ill-discipline this Friday night.
Meanwhile, Munster coach Tony McGahan has had his contract extended until at least the end of the 2011-2012 season.
The contract extension was announced ahead of a two-day training camp in Tipperary, where new signing Wian du Preez will be introduced to the squad. The South African prop has signed until January as regular loosehead Marcus Horan continues his recovery from injury.
Munster are away to the Ospreys in the Magners League this weekend and six days later face Perpignan in the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park.
New Zealand have filed an official complaint with the IRB after prop Tony Woodcock suffered abrasions around his eyes during Saturday's 39-12 win over France in Marseille.