Belfast Telegraph

Neil Doak's men charging back for Euro tie

By Jonathan Bradley

Given the amount of injury blows sustained by Ulster this season, Neil Doak's men could perhaps be forgiven for appearing a little shell shocked of late but, after a dispiriting loss to Munster on Friday night, thankfully it appears that reinforcements are finally on the horizon.

Instrumental scrum-half Ruan Pienaar will step up his involvement in training this week with a view to playing some part in Saturday night's crucial European Champions Cup clash with Scarlets.

The 80-times capped Springbok has been out of action since injuring his knee while representing South Africa in the Rugby Championship during September, a knock it was originally thought would keep him out for 4-6 weeks.

The 30-year-old has not played for Ulster since last May's season ending defeat to Leinster in the RDS, leaving the side with Paul Marshall and Michael Heaney as their only senior number nines.

Also aiming to prove he is ready for at least an appearance off the bench this week is Ireland lock Dan Tuohy.

The 29-year-old fractured his right arm for the second time in 2014 when he sustained the injury in September's win over the Cardiff Blues.

It is hoped that his probable return will give Ulster's tight five some much-needed ball carrying ballast while, even if the side is still without the likes of Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry, Tommy Bowe's return following Ireland duty will be another boost.

Another now fit is Ronald Raaymakers, ironically signed to a short-term contract thanks to Tuohy's injury, after the New Zealand lock started for the Ravens in their heavy British and Irish Cup defeat to the Rotherham Titans on Saturday.

In a rare positive, Ulster came through the loss at Thomond Park with a clean bill of health and, while Stuart Olding received a couple of heavy hits, the young inside centre was still able to complete the game.

Video footage appeared to show Olding, a try-scorer for Ireland against Georgia last month, taking a boot to the head from Donncha O'Callaghan early in the second-half.

The deadline of 9.30pm last night passed, however, without citing commissioner Eddie Walsh bringing any case against the 94-times-capped Irish international.

It was another contentious issue involving Olding this season after Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua received a three week ban for kicking him in a ruck during October's win by the European champions at the Kingspan Stadium.

Saturday's opponents have also been forced to field slightly threadbare line-ups in recent weeks but, after losing to Connacht on Saturday evening, they will be boosted by the return of nine Welsh internationals for their trip to the Kingspan stadium.

It was a mixed November for the Llanelli men picked to represent their country with the likes of Samson Lee, who now seems to have permanently displaced British and Irish Lion Adam Jones from the set-up, lock Jake Ball and full-back Liam Williams all impressing for Warren Gatland's men.

Fly-half Rhys Priestland, however, had a relatively torrid time, was booed by a section of his own fans, and has never appeared further away from prising the Welsh number ten shirt back from the Ospreys' Dan Biggar.

They welcomed back the influential John Barclay, Kristian Phillips and Regan King for the trip to Galway but do, however, have some notable absentees this weekend.

Captain Ken Owens will miss the trip, thanks to a neck injury while his fellow Wales international Gareth Davies, last season's top try-scorer, has been out of action since October with a knee injury.

Rob McCusker, the back-rower who has had an injury interrupted season, was also missing at the Sportsground.

Belfast Telegraph

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