Diack and Wilson back for Ulster's Leinster showdown
ULSTER are hopeful that back rowers Robbie Diack and Roger Wilson will be fit for Saturday evening's PRO12 meeting with Leinster at the RDS (kick-off 6.45).
Diack picked up a shoulder knock in last week's win over Zebre but it is believed that the Irish-qualified South African, who has been in great form this season whether playing at flanker, number eight or as an auxiliary second row, should be good to go for the first of Ulster's two interprovincial clashes on Saturday. Munster are up next at Ravenhill on the first Friday of the New Year.
Wilson was unable to play against the Italians last weekend due to an ankle problem – meaning Diack was at number eight – but is thought likely to be involved which will be a considerable relief to coach Mark Anscombe as his back row cover is still a bit thin on the ground.
Chris Henry, Nick Williams and Iain Henderson are all believed to be shaping up for returns in the Munster game, a week before the final two crucial weekends of European action.
Elsewhere Tom Court – who picked up a tightened calf after coming on against Zebre – should be fit for selection and Niall Annett's back spasm, from his first start for Ulster last weekend, has not unduly troubled him this week and he is in line to make Saturday's bench with Rob Herring starting at hooker.
While Declan Fitzpatrick may also get some valuable game-time, fellow Ireland squad member Paddy Jackson – who with Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy, Andrew Trimble and Fitzpatrick was at Joe Schmidt's get-together earlier this week – has been released back to Anscombe for the Leinster game and is likely to start at the RDS with Paul Marshall inside him in the number nine shirt and Ruan Pienaar benching.
For Ulster, the trip to Dublin clearly evokes memories both good and bad, with the former being last March's memorable triumph after a 14-year gap without a win while the latter is all about the rather more significant defeat in last May's PRO12 final.
"We won the double against them last year," Ulster assistant coach Jonny Bell said, also referring to last December's Ravenhill regulation season PRO12 win, "which was great but we fell at the final hurdle in what we wanted to achieve.
"You can talk about all that but this is an interpro and there's no love lost in these matches, there's no quarter given and everyone wants to be involved and get stuck in," Bell emphasised before focusing on just how important the next four weeks are for the squad.
"We've got four big weeks ahead of us now – Leinster and Munster and then two big European games.
"We want to make sure that we get performances and we want to make sure that those who are fit stay fit and those who are injured become fit and then (also) get significant game-time to enable them to be live contenders for selection for the European games," Bell stated.
"It's all well and good being fit again but we have to get them match fit," he added with hitting the ground running in Europe being the clear priority against Montpellier at home on January 10 and then the potential group-topper at Leicester Tigers the following week.
Not that matters European have eclipsed the immediate priority of staying in the upper part of the PRO12 table by inflicting another defeat on Matt O'Connor's men this weekend.
"We want to inflict a third defeat on them," Bell added, regarding Leinster's recent run of two successive defeats.
"We believe we have the ability to get a win at the RDS."