Ulster Rugby big guns will be back for Euro showdown
Published 16/12/2013 | 09:30
Ulster are hopeful of having four injured international players back on board for their all-important New Year Heineken Cup dates.
Saturday's 35-3 bonus point victory over Benetton Treviso in Pool Five at fog-blanketed Stadio Monigo leaves Ulster with a trail-blazing 18 points after four rounds, three clear of rivals Leicester who were 15-14 winners over Montpellier yesterday.
The French are next up at Ravenhill on the weekend of January 11 followed by the likely pool decider against Leicester at Welford Road a week later.
By then, upbeat coach Mark Anscombe reasoned: "We'd like to think that all four – Rory Best, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Tommy Bowe – are going to be there or thereabouts.
"At the very least, I'd like to think they'd be close."
The only obvious injury following Saturday's win saw Roger Wilson's right foot encased in a protective boot as we boarded the plane in Italy.
Captain Johann Muller had no hesitation in pinpointing the trip to English champions Leicester as a winner-takes-all shoot-out for a home quarter-final.
“Absolutely, I have no doubt that it will come down to whoever wins that game,” the South African said of the January 18 Leicester trip, buoyed by that 22-16 home win in October.
“We've got a big amount of injuries, but if we get all our guys back and can keep on playing the way we have been, there is no reason why we can't go there and get a result.
“But in saying that, our next focus is Montpellier at home. We've got to get over that hurdle first.”
With Ulster having scored 11 tries and conceded only a penalty in their back-to-back meetings with Treviso, Ulster's coach and captain highlighted the part played by a man who was unable to be at Stadio Monigo after falling ill with a bug.
“A lot of credit has to go to Jonny Bell, our defence coach,” Muller said. “He has had a great success rate with us over the past couple of years. He has really pushed the boys to new boundaries and it shows on the field in our performances.
“To have conceded only two tries in the first four rounds of the Heineken Cup is obviously a great effort defensively. I saw him before we left and he was struggling but he has just texted me and obviously he's really happy with the win.
“To concede only three points in two games is a remarkable effort, not only from the players but also from the defensive coach.”
Anscombe said: “Jonny got a bug so he didn't travel, but he'll be really pleased that in two games we have conceded no tries. That's a pretty good trick; it's something to be proud of.”