Ulster's preparations for tonight's Heineken Cup final rematch against Leinster have been hit by a stomach bug that has laid a number of first-team players low this week.
Craig Gilroy and Darren Cave are two who have had to miss training because of the illness and while the province are not giving up on their availability for the Pro12 clash at Ravenhill tomorrow, the dehydrating effects of the bug and the impact of missing vital practice is bound to have a major effect on their preparations.
Stand-in captain Chris Henry is another who has been unable to train after a family bereavement, adding to the headaches facing coach Mark Anscombe, while Ulster are expected to issue a statement today on Tommy Bowe’s state of health and the length of time they are likely to be without their British and Irish Lions wing.
Bowe underwent surgery yesterday morning in Belfast and afterwards tweeted to say that the operation had been successful.
“All good. Op went well,” he said yesterday afternoon following surgery on the injury he picked up in the dying minutes of Saturday night’s home defeat by Northampton in their Heineken Cup clash, Ulster’s first loss of the season.
But despite his confidence, the recovery time for what Ulster described as being “significant lateral ligament damage to his right knee” could be lengthy. Last night an Ulster insider suggested “anything from three to six months”.
If it is worst case scenario, Bowe’s season could be over and that would be a major blow to Ulster’s hopes of challenging for the RaboDirect PRO12 title and the Heineken Cup.
Bowe can certainly wave goodbye to any hope of appearing in Ulster’s two remaining Heineken Cup Pool 4 games against Glasgow Warriors on January 11 and 19, respectively.
Ulster will not have to face Castres Olympique’s Ibrahim Diarra when they go to Stade Pierre-Antoine for their final Heineken Cup Pool 4 game on January 12.
The French international flanker has been suspended for eight weeks after being found guilty of stamping on the Glasgow Warriors’ Scotland tighthead, Moray Low, in last Sunday’s Heineken Cup clash in Castres.
Ulsterman Denis Templeton was the Citing Commissioner who spotted the incident and yesterday in Dublin the independent Judicial Officer, Christopher Quinlan (England), upheld the complaint and found that Diarra had committed a deliberate stamp.