Ulster must see out PRO12 without Muller
Published 09/04/2013 | 07:59
Injury-plagued Ulster captain Johann Muller has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a torn ligament in his bicep during Saturday's Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens in London.
It's the latest injury blow for the likeable South African lock who missed matches earlier in the season with a broken hand.
Ulster are chasing a home tie in the RaboDirect PRO 12 play-offs and Muller's absence will be a significant loss.
Muller's coach, Mark Anscombe, now needs his players to lick their wounds and come out fighting but, before turning his attention back to the league, he admitted his side's Heineken Cup date with Saracens had come too early.
"I'm trying to be careful in what I say in the sense that I don't want to make an excuse. We were clearly beaten; I think Saracens are a bloody good team so there's no reason for that," said Anscombe.
"But the fact is we unfortunately have had a good few injuries this year and in the team out there today we had most probably eight or nine guys that haven't had two full games behind their back in the last six weeks.
"You're not going to get away with it against quality like that. That's not an excuse, it's a fact.
The Kiwi insisted his players will put the disappointment of their Heineken Cup exit behind them and turn their attention on trying to win the PRO12.
That they are no longer competing on two fronts means they can concentrate on capturing a title they won in 2006 – under the tutelage of Mark McCall, now Saracens' Director of Rugby who masterminded Saturday night's defeat at Twickenham.
"We're still going to be a good team tomorrow. We haven't become a bad team today," Anscombe said. "We'll take it on the chin; it's not what we want, it's not what we came here for, but I can assure you that we're going to give the PRO12 everything we have and I have full confidence that this team will do that."
Flanker Chris Henry admitted that Ulster had been outplayed in the key breakdown area, but stressed the side's preparation had been thorough.
"The breakdown was a big factor. We probably turned over ball that usually we wouldn't do.
"Maybe last week (against Leinster) did take more out of us than we thought, but certainly we were prepared massively for it. We were up for the challenge but, unfortunately, the better side won. They were very, very good."
Underlining just how hard the defeat was to stomach he added: "It's another one of those hard days. I can't believe that this time last year after the final I was sitting here saying the same things. It's pretty tough to take."
With Ulster hosting Newport Gwent Dragons in the PRO12 on Friday night (7.05pm) it is imperative they pick themselves up but another player who will play no part in this weekend's fixture – and, like Muller, perhaps in none of those which remain in 2012/13 – is international inside-centre Luke Marshall.
Concussed while playing for Ireland against France and again seven days later against Italy, the 22-year-old picked up his third head injury in three successive games against Saracens.
The news on Tommy Bowe was rather better. Brought on for the final 22 minutes of Ulster's 2012-13 Heineken Cup campaign – his first game-time since suffering a knee ligament injury in mid-December – he displayed enough to suggest that he will play a big part in the push for the PRO12.
"Tommy's a big-match player. He's played 50 internationals, he's a British Lion and I'm sure he wants to go on the tour (to Australia). It's great to have him back and exciting to see," Anscombe added.