Nick Williams injury woe is only tip of the iceberg for Ulster
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss offered a glowing tribute to the departing Nick Williams yesterday after it emerged that the No.8 has played his final game for the province.
The popular Kiwi has been a stalwart for the side since arriving four years ago but will leave for the Cardiff Blues in the summer and a shoulder problem that requires surgery has ended his final campaign at the Kingspan Stadium prematurely.
With Ulster hosting Leinster on Saturday, before travelling to Ospreys seven days later, the fight for a place in the PRO12 play-offs is going right down to the wire and Kiss admitted that losing Williams for the run-in was a sizeable blow.
"I take my hat off to Nick," said the Aussie.
"He had a shoulder issue and he played through it in a couple of games. He said he would give it a chance to see how it went (up) to the Zebre game and make a decision after that.
"It is probably at a point that we need to do something else with it, so it is important for him that he gets it right too.
"It is about people at the end of the day; it is not just about trying to bash people around and squeeze every little bit out of them.
"He has been a great servant and I have loved coaching Nick.
"He is one of those infectious type of players that training with him, working with him, doing one on one with him, you only come out with a smile on the back-end of it.
"He is a quality person and we will miss what he can bring to the game, but it is not to be and he will be around for a number of weeks.
"He will be at our dinner at the end of the year and we wish him well going forward."
The disappointing news on Williams provided the headline act of a lengthy injury missive issued yesterday with Tommy Bowe - 80 minutes into his comeback from six months on the sidelines following knee surgery - also missing this weekend's pivotal clash against the league leaders.
The two-time Lions tourist bagged a brace of tries against Zebre last time out but afterwards suffered a reaction in his knee to rule him out for this week.
While there is optimism that he will return to the panel for the trip to the Liberty Stadium in the season's final weekend, Kiss added: "It's only mild. The docs will have another look next week and see what they can do.
"There is always going to be some ups and downs with the procedure that he had.
"We're hopeful that next week he'll be in a better place but there's no use in pushing it.
"For the Zebre game he was in a pretty good place, he'd played the 'A' game the week before, but it's just a reaction to certain things.
"There's no use in trying to push it when he's such an important resource both for the club and for Ireland as well."
Lock Alan O'Connor's own shoulder problem will keep him out for the rest of the season while it appears that, like Williams, Sam Arnold - bound for Munster this summer - has played his last game for Ulster.
Wiehahn Herbst, the tight-head who has been absent since January, is back in training and in line for a return next week while Stuart McCloskey has regained full fitness.
"It's not nice," said Kiss of the mounting injury problems ahead of a season-defining contest.
"We've tried not to focus on it. We focus on the players that we have, that's all you can do. We could play that card if we want to.
"It's a real thing, it's there and it doesn't help. We have to back what we've got and we believe in what we've got.
"We just need to make sure that the players that we have on the pitch can do the job."
Leinster's squad is in comparatively rude health with destructive flanker Sean O'Brien nearing a return and Kiss is expecting a huge challenge come Saturday afternoon.
"They're building up a good head of steam," he said. "They will be tough.
"When you have Mike Ross and Cian Healy coming back, and I hear Sean O'Brien is sort of back in there, they are in a pretty good place.
"(Jonathan) Sexton has had a rest and is really fresh. We do not expect anything less than a massive, massive challenge to tell you the truth.
"We just know it is going to be a big one for us and if we can get over the line it is an important one."
Guinness Pro12 League:
Kingspan Stadium, Saturday, 3.00 pm