Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin’s announcement of the provisional 32-man squad for Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Aironi at Ravenhill (7.05) was unprecedented in that it began with an explanation for a player’s omission.
The missing man was Andi Kyriacou and McLaughlin’s initially cryptic explanation for the hooker’s absence was: “Following our away PRO12 match at the weekend against Treviso, Andi Kyricou was involved in an off-field incident.
“The issue has been dealt with through our internal disciplinary process. As far as we’re concerned that’s something that we’ve set down in our code. It’s something that we deal with internally, with David (Humphreys, Director of Rugby) and myself.
“It has been dealt with; the player has been reprimanded and will not be in our squad this weekend.”
Asked if Kyriacou was suspended, the coach replied: “The conditions of our code are very much between the senior players, David and myself.
“The situation is that he has been dealt with through our internal disciplinary process; it is purely for us to know how he has been dealt with.”
When I asked the coach if Kyriacou would be available for Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final meeting with Munster at Thomond Park on Easter Sunday, his answer was: “He has been disciplined by being left out of the squad this week. That is what has happened in the past and that is what has happened again.”
Asked if the suspension was for one match, McLaughlin confirmed: “It’s for one match.”
Other than that unfortunate distraction to their preparations, Ulster enjoyed working out in the sunshine at Newforge where their ranks were swelled by the return of first-choice hooker Rory Best, flanker Stephen Ferris and wing Andrew Trimble following their Six Nations exertions on Ireland’s behalf.
Tight-head Declan Fitzpatrick has been named in the squad, too, following a four-month lay-off with a neck injury which has now been given the all-clear by doctors.
He last played on November 25 and his availability at a time when Irish rugby has worked itself into a state of near-hysteria over the lack of indigenous number threes could not be more timely.
Outlining the state of health regarding the four players listed as ‘injured’ McLaughlin said; “Tim Baker has hurt his back, Jared (Payne) is still improving, Michael McComish (concussion) we’re bringing back very slowly with his head and Simon Danielli is improving day by day with his hamstring.”
He confirmed the decisions to withdraw captain Johann Muller and Darren Cave in the second-half of Saturday’s away win over Treviso had been precautionary, a fact underlined by the pair’s inclusion for Friday night’s game.
He also hinted that the Ulster starting line-up will be used again at Thomond Park nine days later.
“We feel that people like Pedrie (Wannenburg), Darren and Johnann who are just coming back from injury have got to be given a little bit of settle-time and game-time to get them back up to speed. Hopefully that will happen this Friday night,” he said.