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Gilroy looks set to miss out on Ulster's six-in-a-row bid

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster look certain to still be without Craig Gilroy for Friday night's return to PRO12 action when they take on Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.05pm).

The 22-year-old Ireland international, who can play full-back and wing, injured his ankle in the PRO12 win over the Ospreys at the start of the month and is likely to miss his third consecutive game for Ulster, though the hope is that he may get a run out in next week's final league game at the Scarlets before the three-week break for the autumn internationals.

While coach Mark Anscombe could plump for the status quo and start Jared Payne at full-back on Friday, it is thought much more likely that the in-form Payne, who again shone in the stunning 25-8 European win at Montpellier, may get another chance to play in his much more involved outside centre berth.

This, in turn, would open up a number of options for those who can wear the number 15 shirt with Tommy Bowe being one such possibility which if deployed would in turn allow Michael Allen another run on the wing.

Elsewhere, though, there is better news as John Afoa should start his first Ulster game of the season following his cameo off the bench last week in southern France.

However, it is unclear if Iain Henderson will take his place in the squad as his toe dislocation, sustained at Montpellier, is still being assessed while Nick Williams is doubtful due to a calf tear sustained against Leicester.

Anscombe's side go into Friday's game seeking their sixth consecutive win in all competitions – four PRO12 victories and two Heineken Cup successes – and they will be going all out to sign off on a high note in what will be their final home game before former Ulster boss Alan Solomons brings Edinburgh to town on November 22.

And after the Montpellier win, Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak has underlined the squad's determination to back up last Saturday's massive result with another winning outing on Friday evening.

"It's not an issue," Doak said regarding any possible loss of focus this week after their eye-catching European win.

"We want to finish off as strongly as possible for the autumn break."

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