Neil Doak still short of options but Stuart Olding in Ulster Rugby mix
Ulster head coach Neil Doak has admitted that his beleaguered squad are unlikely to receive any reinforcements ahead of the trip to Ospreys on Saturday.
The lengthy injury list has not eased since the defeat to Scarlets, which effectively ended their Champions Cup campaign last week, and only Stuart Olding has a chance of coming back into the side.
On his depleted playing staff, Doak said: "There are no further injuries, which is positive."
That still leaves the former Ireland A international short of options, with Olding and Paddy Jackson the only players set for a swift return.
Olding suffered a concussion in the first Scarlets encounter, while Jackson picked up a shoulder knock against Saturday's opponents back in November.
"He's (Olding) still got to do a little bit of contact work this week, he may come into the mix," confirmed Doak. "Because he has had a few bumps, we want to do things right for him."
On Jackson, he added: "He's back training with us now but without any contact. He's there or thereabouts but I don't think he's quite right to really get fully into the mix. He's doing a little bit of grappling and stuff, so maybe two weeks. It just depends how that shoulder materialises."
Andrew Trimble is now out of his protective boot but remains absent while the return dates for Iain Henderson and Jared Payne remain unclear. When asked when he'd see the Ireland duo back in action, he replied: "If I had a penny for every time I've asked the physios that, I'd have a pot of gold. They get to a certain point and they're looking good and then they drop off again. They're still a couple, maybe four, weeks away."
With a crucial set of fixtures ahead, Doak knows that the disappointing European campaign must be put firmly in the rear-view mirror, but he did not think his side deserved to draw the ire of referee JP Doyle with quite such frequency in Sunday's crucial defeat.
"Looking at the video, I was a bit disappointed with some of the penalties," he said. "Touch judges, from what I can gather it sounded like on the mike, called in for a couple of penalties. Categorically they got them wrong."
With the trip to Ospreys to be followed by festive inter-pros against Connacht and Leinster, there is no time to dwell on the troubles of recent weeks, and Doak knows that this is a pivotal section of the season.
"This is always a period, for every team, that defines the season," he added. "You've four European games and local derbies. They're heavy duty games and we're under no illusions that we need to deliver in the next PRO12 games and then take stock ahead of the last two Europeans."
Meanwhile, loosehead prop, Andrew Warwick, has signed his first senior contract with the province. The 23-year-old has agreed a two-year deal that will see him remain at Kingspan Stadium until at least the summer of 2017.
Ospreys v Ulster, PRO12 League: Liberty Stadium, Saturday, 5.15pm