Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Ulster gripped by tension

Stephen Ferris has recovered from a rib injury and is expected to face Edinburgh at Murrayfield

Connacht will play twice before Ulster take the field for their next Magners League game against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon as the battle for Ireland’s third Heineken Cup spot intensifies.

MAC’S MEN HOLDING EDGE OVER CONNACHTComeback king:

It’s definitely advantage Ulster as they have a four point gap over Michael Bradley’s side following the weekend fixtures.

Ulster managed to secure a vital losing bonus point in their defeat at Glasgow last Friday night.

Connacht were 4/9 favourites to turn over defending champions Munster at the Sportsground on Sunday but despite Tony McGahan’s side missing 18 players they still won 18-12 with the home side registering a losing bonus point.

The Western Province face Leinster tomorrow night before kicking off two hours ahead of Ulster at the Scarlets on Sunday. Ulster have met Edinburgh three times already this season with the Scottish side winning in the league 16-13 at Ravenhill with a late Phil Godman drop goal.

The sides were drawn together in the Heineken Cup with Edinburgh winning 17-13 at Murrayfield and Ulster victorious in the most recent encounter in January with tries from Darren Cave and Isaac Boss contributing to the 21-13 scoreline.

Ulster haven’t won at the home of Scottish rugby since February 2006 when two Andy Maxwell tries helped beat Edinburgh 31-23, they have lost on all three on their subsequent visits.

There is good news on the injury front for coach Brian McLaughlin. British Lions flanker Stephen Ferris was a late withdrawal at Firhill last weekend due to a rib injury but is expected to play. Fellow Irish internationals Rory Best and Paddy Wallace are also rehabilitating well.

Best missed the Glasgow game with a calf injury while Wallace has a thigh strain but both should recover.

South African No8 Robbie Diack had to leave the pitch before half time in Glasgow with a bruised hand but he is also expected to be given the all clear as Ulster look to register their first win league win since beating Munster in January.

Edinburgh slipped out of the play-off places with a defeat at the Dragons but managed to get a try scoring bonus point and they will be looking to get back on track and keep their impressive home record up against Ulster.

League leaders Leinster have to play two games in three days starting at the Sportsground but coach Michael Cheika has fielded a strong side for the Irish derby. Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll returns to the midfield in a backline that also includes Girvan Dempsey, Eoin Reddan and the exciting youngster Andrew Conway.

Up front South African prop CJ Van der Linde returns while Nathan Hines, Malcolm O’Kelly and Shane Jennings all start. Irish duo Cain Healy and Jamie Heaslip are on the bench.

Meanwhile, Biarritz could be without inspirational back-row Imanol Harinordoquy for their Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster but Toulouse have played down fears their star flanker Thierry Dusatoir will miss the clash with Leinster in the other semi-final.

Harinordoquy broke his nose after taking a massive hit from France team-mate Sebastien Chabal at the weekend as Racing Metro 92 scored a fantastic 29-22 victory to secure the final Top 14 play-off spot at Biarritz's expense.

While he has not been definitively ruled out of the San Sebastian semi-final, reports in France claim Harinordoquy will not play again this season; that would be a massive blow for the Basque outfit and a big boost for Munster.

Harinordoquy, who can play across the back-row, has been in superb form for club and country this season and was many people's player of the Six Nations after his hugely influential role in France's Grand Slam campaign.

With their Top 14 interest ended, Biarritz will channel all their energies into the Heineken Cup. Biarritz have back-row options in the shape of Fabien Alexandre, Trevor Hall, England international Magnus Lund and Tongan Samiu Vahafolau, but none is in the same class as Harinordoquy.

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