Ulster made to sweat on injured stars
Published 24/09/2013 | 01:30
Ulster's chief injury concerns ahead of Friday night's RaboDirect PRO12 date with Benetton Treviso (7.05pm) are at tight-head prop.
John Afoa, the 2011 World Cup-winning All Black, is not due to return from New Zealand until Thursday and until such times as Ulster see him they will not know whether or not he is match-fit.
They will be hoping he is, with Declan Fitzpatrick having suffered a head injury in Saturday's win over Connacht in Galway. He reported to Joe Schmidt's Ireland camp at Carton House, Co Kildare on Sunday and will be assessed when he returns to Newforge today.
If neither Afoa nor Fitzpatrick comes through, Ulster are going to be wholly dependent on Ricky Lutton at number three against Treviso's very strong front row.
Two backs for whom Ulster fingers are crossed are Tommy Bowe and Stuart Olding. Neither has played so far this season, though the word from within yesterday was that both are recovering well from injury. They will be assessed later in the week before any decision as to their availability to face Treviso.
No such waiting will be necessary for winger Michael Allen, the scorer of Ulster's first try in Galway at the weekend. He left the pitch in the 70th minute after taking a heavy blow, but already he has returned to training.
Scrum-half Paul Marshall will be available for consideration, too. He suffered soft tissue injuries, but not of so serious a nature as to rule him out this weekend. The same is true of Iain Henderson, Ulster's Irish international lock/flanker.
And Roger Wilson's discomfort against Connacht, which resulted in him being withdrawn after 63 minutes, turns out to have been nothing more serious than cramp.
Meanwhile, Kingspan have pinned their colours to the tail of Ulster's shirts.
Having previously sponsored Ulster with on-sock and pitch-side advertising, the building materials manufacturer's contract now means their logo will feature on the back of the province's playing shirt for the next two seasons.
Ralph Mannion, the sponsors' managing director said: "The relationship between ourselves and Ulster is one of the most enduring businesss-sporting partnerships in Northern Ireland and one that continues to prove highly mutually beneficial on an international stage."