RaboDirect Pro12: Ulster dealt triple blow
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has described tomorrow night as providing “an opportunity to get back in the saddle”.
But in attempting to re-mount successfully against Glasgow Warriors at Firhill, where the Celtic cousins square up on RaboDirect Pro12 business (7.35pm), Ulster must do so without Irish internationals Rory Best and Stephen Ferris, both of whom are rested under the IRFU’s player management policy.
Their omission, following three weeks of full-blooded action against Connacht, Clermont Auverge and Leicester, leaves two sizeable vacancies at hooker and flanker.
Nor has Ruan Pienaar made it; he has not recovered sufficiently from his hamstring injury to be included. Instead his comeback date has been changed to December 2 when Ulster host Scarlets.
“He’s been running a little and gradually building things up a bit but we just want to make sure it’s perfect before we put him back in,” McLaughlin explained.
While the Ulster coach followed the pre-match norm of naming a provisional squad of 30, his Scottish counterpart cut straight to the chase.
Sean Lineen did not waste time selecting a panel to be trimmed today; instead he named 15 starters and seven replacements.
When McLaughlin does so today, he knows that those he chooses will have to be at their best if they are to return with a victory. Glasgow have won each of their past four Pro12 outings and will be aiming for a fourth successive triumph at Firhill in all competitions.
Last weekend’s 38-13 Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster at the RDS was the Warriors’ first reversal in six games as, after losing to Benetton Treviso on September 23, they went on a five-match winning run which saw Cardiff Blues, Dragons, Ospreys, Aironi and Bath beaten in turn.
And Lineen sounded a warning ahead of tomorrow night by saying: “The players have shown great character and determination in the last couple of months, securing a number of excellent results in the process, and that’s what we’re looking for in spades come Friday night.
“Ulster are a tough proposition all over the field so we’ll need to show real aggression in contact and appetite for the battle.
“The guys have delivered that many times already this season, so I’ve every confidence they’ll put in a much-improved performance.”
Like Glasgow, Ulster are smarting following a Heineken Cup defeat last weekend, in their case at the hands of Leicester Tigers who won 20-9 at Welford Road.
But McLaughlin knows the side they face tomorrow night will not be in any mood to aid their recovery having lost each of their past three head-to-heads with Ulster. And the dimensions of the Firhill pitch make it difficult to play the sort of football to which Ulster aspire.
“You’re playing on a very small pitch which makes it very, very difficult to break down the opposition defence. So you’ve got to be patient with the ball,” he warned.
“Last week against Leicester we were able to go through phase after phase, but then we coughed it up at a vital time.
“It’s going to be exactly the same against Glasgow; because it’s a narrow pitch the defence will just cover the field.
“That means you’ve got to be patient with the ball and you’ve got to drag teams through phases so that you can get your mis-matches, so that you can get the right people into the right place to actually cause them damage.”
“Whenever you play a Scottish side you’re trying to make sure that you make your breakdown as accurate and as positive as possible because they’ll be all over you like a rash.”