Williams is only absentee from Glasgow game
There were no real surprises when Ulster unveiled their 26-strong extended squad for Saturday’s crucial clash with Castres Olympique in their final Heineken Cup Pool 4 fixture.
Fourteen of the 15 who started last Friday night’s game against Glasgow Warriors are included.
The exception is Nick Williams, who is expected to be out for eight weeks after sustaining a medial ligament injury to his left knee.
In the big No 8’s absence, Mike McComish is added, along with Nigel Brady who fills the space vacated by Rob Herring, last weekend’s replacement hooker.
Herring is the only one of the January 11 bench-warmers missing from the 26, with Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen and Chris Cochrane retained.
Behind the scrum, half-backs Michael Heaney and Niall O’Connor join the seven starters and three replacements who featured in the win against the Scots.
The good news is that Craig Gilroy (concussion), Jared Payne (groin) and Paddy Jackson (ankle) were considered fit enough to warrant inclusion in the squad.
That is a much-needed boost for coach Mark Anscombe who has had to deal with an unprecedented run of injuries.
Back row star Williams has joined an ever-lengthening list which currently includes locks Johann Muller and Dan Touhy, props Paddy McAllister and Adam Macklin, flanker Stephen Ferris, centres Luke Marshall and Chris Farrell, wing Tommy Bowe and full-back Adam D’Arcy.
“I think we’ve got about a dozen who are unavailable this week,” Anscombe said. “But that’s the challenge.
“It happens to each team because nobody is going to go through a season without injuries. It’s about how you survive them.
“Fortunately, with the opportunities that guys got given earlier in the year we’re in a better state now to be able to handle that,” he insisted.
“But you can’t get into a situation where you’re reliant on one or two, so the important thing is that we’re getting over those hurdles.”
Pointing to the number and the severity of the blows to have befallen his side he reflected: “Tommy (Bowe), Paddy McAllister, Chris Farrell and now Adam Macklin are four guys with cruciate ligament injuries. Four in one season is unusual.”
Asked if he could offer any explanation, he replied: “I suppose if we knew we could try to stop it.
“Size of the players? Conditions?” he asked. “I don’t know. There’s no obvious reason.”