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Neil Doak remains optimistic of Chris Henry recovery

By Michael Sadlier

With Monday's statement on Chris Henry's well-being still very fresh in the mind, it was hardly surprising that his situation was up for discussion at the Kingspan yesterday, even though the get-together was essentially about previewing Friday night's home clash with the PRO12's unbeaten leaders the Ospreys (kick-off 7.35pm).

Ulster coach Neil Doak was certainly remaining upbeat that the Ireland flanker will hopefully return to action, though, clearly, there is no established timeframe to go along with the sense of optimism being expressed.

"I spoke to Chris last week and he was in good spirits," Doak said.

"He's being managed by Dublin at the moment and we're waiting on a couple of test results.

"Hopefully he'll be back in due course and we'll know when he can return over the next few weeks," the coach added before focusing on Friday night's return to action which will be third-placed Ulster's first game in three weeks.

With the release of the four Ulster players who were involved with Ireland in Sunday's 49-7 thumping of Georgia still unclear - Robbie Diack, Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy all started while Stuart Olding came off the bench to score his first international try - it means that Ulster may still get some of this combination heading back to Belfast to be included for Friday.

It's hardly an ideal situation as Doak prepares his squad, but such is the nature of things at this time of year when national requirements take priority and there are no quibbles over that situation.

"Whenever Ireland decide their squad we'll pick up whoever is released. Last season I think maybe Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson were released (late in the week) to play in what was possibly a game against the Ospreys as well.

"It is what it is," Doak adds, "but it's good to have boys involved nationally and if they get released we'll pick up what happens from that.

"When guys get chances (with the national squad) we have to look again to fill the holes and keep the guys back here progressing."

On the injury front, Doak hopes to have Louis Ludik, Roger Wilson and Nick Williams all available to play - only Williams missed the Dragons clash last time out while Ludik and Wilson picked up knocks.

The coach should also have Michael Allen, who can play centre or wing, back in harness after he dislocated his shoulder playing for Ulster Ravens last month. But there will be Dan Tuohy or Ruan Pienaar, who are still recovering from their respective arm and knee problems.

"The next two weeks starting with the Ospreys (and then away against Munster) are big games," said Doak.

"Obviously both teams on Friday will be missing a few bodies (largely due to international commitments with Wales facing the All Blacks on Saturday, the same day Ireland play Australia) and maybe because of that, cohesion and collectiveness just won't be there and there could be a few mistakes.

"But we also know the game is going to be tight so we have to be sensible in what we try to do.

"These are two big games for us before Europe returns and we want to try and make sure we keep our league form going and come out top on Friday night," the coach stated.

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