Pienaar ready to boost Ulster for season opener against Dragons
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss downplayed fears over influential scrum-half Ruan Pienaar's elbow injury after watching his side defeat Northampton Saints in their final pre-season friendly.
The province welcome Newport Gwent Dragons to Kingspan Stadium on Friday night for the first game of the Guinness Pro12 campaign with Kiss saying he was "more hopeful than not" that Pienaar would be fit to play.
The Springbok World Cup winner's deputy Paul Marshall filled in effectively against Saints last week, while youngsters Angus Lloyd and Dave Shanahan have also featured throughout the pre-season, but the presence of Pienaar would still provide a sizeable boost.
"He did a good session out the back with minimal contact," Kiss said. "It's an elbow and there's no real ligament damage. I would say at this stage we're more hopeful than not for (this) week."
The verdict was less promising on prop Ricky Lutton. Injuries throughout the pre-season have left Lutton, Wiehahn Herbst and Johnny Simpson on the sidelines with Rodney Ah You the only fit tight-head in the senior squad.
Academy player Ross Kane was on bench duty last week with Kiss admitting that it remains hard to put a timescale on Lutton's return to action.
"I'm doubtful he would be (ready for Friday)," said the Australian. "It's a situation we're going to be taking day by day.
"He's been running with light change in direction but it's a hard thing a groin, especially for a tighthead prop.
"There's a lot of stresses there. After a lot of effort in general play you have to go to a scrum or move across to a line-out, be first to the breakdown.
"There's a lot of areas that he may not be up for so at this stage, very doubtful.
"Hopefully we get better news next week or the week after but it can take four or five weeks. We're in the dark a bit."
Kiss will hope for better news on Louis Ludik with the utility back set to find out today the extent of the finger injury he sustained against Northampton.