Tommy Bowe near return but McCloskey to miss Ulster Euro ties
Ulster received decidedly mixed news on the injury front yesterday with centre Stuart McCloskey's foot problem potentially keeping him out until November.
The once-capped Irish international was taken off early in last Friday's win over Glasgow and has since required crutches and a protective boot.
With the province set to take on Ospreys this weekend before an inter-pro with champions Connacht, and then the start of the Champions Cup, the hard-running 24-year-old is set to miss important fixtures.
There was, however, a much more encouraging update on his fellow centre Stuart Olding.
Shortly after Olding hobbled off against Glasgow, Director of Rugby Les Kiss expressed concern that he had sustained an injury to his twice surgically repaired knee. Forwards coach Allen Clarke, however, yesterday revealed that it was in fact a groin problem. And while he will certainly miss out against Ospreys, the injury is not as bad as initially thought.
"It was up around his groin," revealed Clarke. "I think we were all relieved because we feared the worst, and he was smiling afterwards because of that. He settled, but it'll take a little bit of time, particularly with his feet and his ability to sidestep. He won't be available this week."
Kiss' selection could be boosted, however, by the return of three long-term absentees after Tommy Bowe, Dan Tuohy and Andrew Trimble all trained yesterday.
Bowe has played just once since injuring his knee at the World Cup almost a year ago and Ulster have preached patience throughout his most recent spell of rehab. The two-time Lion could, however, come into the frame for Saturday if there is no reaction throughout the week.
Trimble, co-captain for this season along with Rob Herring, could only have returned last week after his part in Ireland's summer tour to South Africa, but the winger has battled a niggling toe injury in recent weeks. He, along with Craig Gilroy, will also come into contention.
Tuohy, who has not played since December, has also resumed full training following a lengthy ankle problem and is set for a role on Saturday.
With Olding and McCloskey sidelined and Luke Marshall continuing to miss out with the concussion he sustained against Scarlets, Ulster will be light of options in midfield against Ospreys but have plenty of versatility in their outside backs.
Darren Cave made his first start of the season against Glasgow and finished the game with Louis Ludik moving off the wing to join him. Charles Piutau and Jared Payne, meanwhile, are others who can switch easily from the back three to midfield.
"There's a lot in terms of selection from game to game, but also within the game," Clarke added. "That interchangeability, where your 10 can drop in, your 15 can step to first receiver, that's where we're trying to get to.
"There's enough quality for those guys to just play the game. That's what you're seeing. They're building an understanding of each other's skillsets and relationships with each other, and we're starting to see the dividends."