Ulster already hit by injuries, says Neil Doak
Despite already having a number of players in the treatment room, head coach Neil Doak is hoping that Ulster are not once again depleted by injuries this season.
The province endured a horrendous run of medical misfortune last year and this campaign has already started in a similar vein.
While the full extent of a seemingly significant injury suffered by Jack Owens in last Friday night's pre-season defeat to Leinster will only be known in the coming days, Doak revealed that he could be without full-back Louis Ludik and No 8 Roger Wilson when the PRO12 campaign gets under way against Ospreys on September 4.
With a host of key players also set to be absent due to World Cup commitments, Doak can ill-afford to lose any more players before the big kick-off.
He said: "We've a few guys that are out a little bit long-term already. It's like every other team, there's going to be injuries across the board.
"Jack Owens picked up a pretty nasty knee injury.
"Louis Ludik pulled out an hour before the (Leinster) game, as did Roger Wilson.
"I'm still waiting on the medics getting back, there's a few scans and we'll know better during the week what the make-up of the squad will be."
Now less than two weeks to go before the campaign begins, Ulster take on Edinburgh this Friday night at Goldenacre, the home of Heriots RFC, in their final pre-season game and, compared to the players on show against their inter-provincial rivals last weekend, Doak expects to bring a reduced panel to the Scottish capital.
"We had a good hit out last week," he said.
"Both teams used 30 odd players but we'll be looking to narrow that down a bit this week and obviously get some prep in for the Ospreys."
What Doak does not need, however, is more injuries, especially after last season's efforts were badly hampered by the loss of key players at crucial times.
After having to begin the year without star scrum-half Ruan Pienaar due to a knee injury suffered on South Africa duty, Ulster were rarely at full strength thereafter in a season that ended with a PRO12 semi-final defeat to Glasgow.
"Ultimately, if we were asked what the injury list was, probably nobody would be able to tell you now," Doak lamented.
"You just have to deal with those things accordingly.
"You need a little bit of luck but, looking back at the season, I think we did pretty well considering.
"It wasn't so much the number of injuries, but the quality of player.
"Hendy (Iain Henderson) and Jared Payne, at one stage just after the Six Nations had played more games for Ireland than they had for Ulster.
"(Andrew) Trimble went pretty early, Dan Tuohy was in and out, Chris Henry went pretty early, Stuart McCloskey, Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson all dislocated elbows.
"I think from a squad point of view, the players dug in pretty well and we were competitive."