Belfast Telegraph

Injury-hit Ulster won't be panicked, coach Doak vows

By Michael Sadlier

With Ulster's injury update having been released less than an hour beforehand, it was little wonder that it took centre stage at yesterday's weekly media briefing.

And it didn't make comfortable reading as now a truly battered squad go about regrouping without Ruan Pienaar while resources are looking thin indeed at tight-head prop - Rodney Ah You being the latest addition to an injury list which includes Wiehahn Herbst and Ricky Lutton - ahead of tomorrow's huge challenge of trying to derail the Scarlets at their west Wales stronghold.

It would now appear that Ulster have only four fit props as they bid to avoid back-to-back Guinness PRO12 away defeats ahead of their final two European pool games at Exeter and then home to Bordeaux.

Jonny Simpson, who made his debut against Leinster, will have to be added to the European squad as he and Ross Kane appear to be all that Ulster have at tight-head prop as Andy Warwick is required to help out at loose-head with Callum Black.

These are certainly trying times for Les Kiss and his players as they seek to stay in touch with the PRO12's top four.

And how Ulster must really hate the sight of the RDS even more than usual as four of those injuries were shipped in the 22-7 New Year's Eve defeat to Leinster.

It was enough to seriously detract from the upbeat fact that Rory Best, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall are all back on board for the trip to Llanelli while Kane, Robbie Diack, John Donnan and Aaron Cairns are all fit again.

The most eye-catching individual on the lengthy list of injuries was, of course, their talisman Pienaar, whose knee injury will now keep him out for an unspecified period of time and requires a visit to a knee specialist to ascertain the extent of the damage.

That consultation alone suggests that Pienaar's right knee - the one he originally damaged back in September 2014 playing for the Springboks - might require some attention which could seriously shorten his game time in what remains of his Ulster career.

The loss of the 32-year-old - who looked out of sorts playing at out-half in Dublin - for any period of time will be a huge blow to the province, who are currently sixth in the PRO12 table - though with a game in hand - and, more urgently, require some positive outcomes from the final two rounds of European action to harbour any hopes of making the last eight.

The others who ended up limping away from Dublin - Rob Herring, Ah You and Roger Wilson - all also managed to sustain knee injuries.

Herring and Ah You have knee ligament issues and will not be available to play for at least six weeks, which could have a significantly detrimental impact on Ulster's PRO12 critical outings during the Six Nations, games they need to win to get moving up the table.

Wilson's problem was described as a knee injury and he too will miss the trip to Wales.

"It's bizarre that they were all knee injuries," said head coach Neil Doak.

"We've just got to move on but there are other guys coming back and some long-termers aren't far away.

"We've just got to try and get through and we know that's going to be tough."

A more accurate prognosis on Herbst has the South African sidelined for four to six weeks after tearing a calf muscle last week while Craig Gilroy's absence looks set to continue after he suffered an ankle injury in training.

Meanwhile, loose-head prop Kyle McCall's season is probably over following surgery on his torn right hamstring which struck him down at Clermont last month. McCall's recovery is likely to take four to five months.

And, of course, there is still no sign of Stuart Olding (calf), Jared Payne (kidney), Alan O'Connor (concussion) and the as yet unseen star signing Marcell Coetzee, who suffered a knee injury before even arriving at Ulster, though the Springbok may be in line to make his debut in next month's PRO12 home game with Edinburgh.

"There's no panic from our point of view," said Doak.

"It's just over Christmas time and there are still plenty of games to go."

  • Scarlets v Ulster,  Guinness Pro12 Championship, Parc y Scarlets, Friday, 7.35pm

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