Ulster 9 Northampton 10:
ANSCOMBE MUST PREPARE FOR CRUCIAL CUP TIES WITHOUT BOWECruel end: Tommy Bowe is stretchered off the Ravenhill pitch on Saturday
ULSTER’S promising season is in danger of being ruined by injuries to key players.
Wing ace Tommy Bowe is the latest big name affected and, like his already-sidelined Ireland and Lions colleague Stephen Ferris, he now faces a spell of recuperation following surgery.
After a start to 2012-13 during which everything went right, suddenly Lady Luck has turned her back on Mark Anscombe’s team.
Earlier this month Ferris underwent surgery on the ankle tendon injury he picked up while playing against Edinburgh at the start of November. He is out for an indefinite period as a result.
Captain Johann Muller is expected to be missing until early February after suffering an undisplaced fracture of the radius in his right arm in the first of the back to back dates with Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens.
In Saturday night’s follow-up at Ravenhill, Bowe sustained ligament damage to his right knee after being tackled by Saints’ wing Jamie Elliott three minutes from the end when it seemed he would score.
Bowe will have surgery this week, but clearly he will play no part in Ulster’s final two Heineken Cup games against Glasgow in Belfast and, more crucially, Castres in France, both early in the New Year.
It is also highly unlikely he will be available for Ireland Six Nations opener against Wales on February 2 but at least some hope is on the horizon with Bowe tweeting yesterday that the injury wasn’t as bad as he feared and that he hoped to be back soon.
At full-time on Saturday night Anscombe’s (pictured) assessment of Bowe was: “We don’t know how long it will be but obviously it’s not looking good.”
Yesterday, Ulster Rugby followed that up with a statement which read: “At this stage it is not possible to put a timescale on how long his recovery period will be.
“A further update on this will be issued following surgery when the full extent of the injury is known.”
With places on next June’s Australia-bound Lions’ plane up for grabs, the timing of these serious injuries could not be worse for Bowe and Ferris at a personal level.
From an Ulster perspective, that double-whammy — coupled with the loss of captain Muller — now leaves them trying to keep their PRO12 and European challenges on track minus three of their top players.
Even that may not be the end of their problems for, depending on the seriousness of the calf injury Dan Tuohy suffered right at the end on Saturday night, Anscombe could well be minus his other first-choice second row forward.
“He might have popped a calf muscle in that last scrum and that won’t add to the locking situation,” Anscombe said.
With Lewis Stevenson also injured, that means Neil McComb is the only out-and-out lock still standing ahead of Leinster’s PRO12 visit on Friday night.
And out-half Paddy Jackson is being assessed after picking up a blow to the head against the Saints.
When questioned about the impact of Saturday’s defeat on his side the coach said: “We were a good team before this game and we’re going to be a good team on Monday.
“Like any situation, if you don’t bring that intensity you need against good teams and you don’t have that urgency and desire right to the top of your levels each week teams can beat you. That’s reality.”
Explaining the vast improvement in the Saints game in the space of eight days, Northampton Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder said: “I think it was just the determination to put last week’s game right and to change. We were bitterly disappointed with last week and I guess, quite rightly, that we got a lot of criticism. I think as a team, as a group, we were determined to put that right.”