The doom and gloom of Ireland’s World Cup exit to Wales may still be fresh in the collective memory, but there are certain fringe benefits in seeing players take their leave of New Zealand as Ulster can now expect to see a raft of big names returning to duty.
In addition to the five involved with Ireland — Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace — both Ruan Pienaar and Johann Muller have also taken their leave, following South Africa’s quarter-final defeat to Australia, while Simon Danielli is already back in Belfast after Scotland bowed out at the pool stages.
The eight international players are all due back this week to be assessed by the medical staff at Ravenhill.
If they are in reasonable condition then it is believed that Pienaar, Muller, though he did suffer a hamstring problem which curtailed his World Cup, and Danielli will return to training with Ulster next Monday when the squad is due to reassemble after this week’s break.
Should they be passed fit, the international trio should then be in Brian McLaughlin’s selection mix for Ulster’s next league game at the Scarlets on October 29.
Even though Wallace, Court and Trimble were not frontline players with large amounts of game time, the situation regarding those coming back from Ireland duty is that they are not due at training until October 24.
As part of the IRFU’s Player Management Programme, the Irish contingent are granted a two week rest period.
The hope is that Best and Ferris will also return at the same time as the others though there is the possibility that Best’s shoulder injury may require more rest while Ferris may also need extra management in light of his own lengthy injury issues.
The international players’ return to Ravenhill duties will certainly be most timely for Ulster who have lost their last three PRO12 League outings and looked a dishevelled side in last Friday’s miserable reverse to Treviso.
The need to get back to winning ways after the three week league break is a priority for McLaughlin’s squad who will also want to be in good shape for the start of their Heineken Cup campaign which opens on November 12 with the visit of Clermont to Belfast.
On the injury front, it’s still hard to get past Jared Payne’s ruptured Achilles and the Kiwi full-back, who turns 26 on Thursday, now looks to have a long road ahead of him to get back playing again.
Medical opinion is still being sought regarding the best way forward for the unfortunate new signing with the option of surgery being a distinct possibility if the injury shows little sign of healing itself.
Either way, the likelihood is that he will not be seen in an Ulster shirt again until next season gets under way.