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Ulster Rugby could return to France next week to play game postponed by Paris attacks

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 18/11/2015

Act of remembrance: Ulster fans who travelled to France leave a flag for Paris at Oyonnax
Act of remembrance: Ulster fans who travelled to France leave a flag for Paris at Oyonnax

French clubs are pushing for the European games postponed due to the Paris terror attacks to be played as soon as NEXT week, according to reports in France.

Ulster are currently preparing to face Saracens at kingspan in the Champions Cup on Friday - and could be boosted by the return of Iain Henderson to their bench after the World Cup star resumed training on Monday - but such a scenario would have them back on the road to Oyonnax next weekend AND result in the rescheduling of their interpro clash with Leinster set for November 27.

All four Irish provinces would be in the same boat as Munster, whose game against Stade Francais on Sunday was postponed last night, were set to play Connacht on November 28, but are now expected to take on the Parisians that weekend.

It is believed French clubs would then rearrange their fixtures planned for next weekend - which include a repeat of the 2013 and 2015 European finals between Clermont and Toulon - during the first weekend of the Six Nations.

With Ireland taking on Wales at the Aviva Stadium on February 7, if the Pro12 followed suit it would mean Ulster's trip to Leinster taking place with both sides shorn of their Test stars.

While there has, as yet, been no official word on the re-arrangement of the fixtures, European Professional Club Rugby chairman Simon Halliday did say yesterday that he hoped to find a solution within 48 hours.

After the postponement of the Oyonnax fixture, Ulster's hosting of Saracens becomes their Pool 1 opener and a potential return for Henderson among the replacements would represent a significant boost.

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The 23-year-old announced himself on the big stage with a series of eye-catching performances during the World Cup for Ireland but a finger injury in the quarter-final defeat to Argentina four and a half weeks ago required surgery.

It means that, just as he did last season when coming back from hip surgery against Leicester Tigers, Henderson could be thrown into the heated battle of Europe for a first Ulster appearance of the season.

If he can prove his fitness over the rest of the week, the dynamic forward is not expected to be the only change to the panel who were named but did not face Oyonnax last week, with Stuart McCloskey one who is sure to be pressing for reinstatement having been rested for the trip to the Alps.

Defence coach Joe Barakat was tight-lipped yesterday when asked about who was likely to return to the fold but said that the plan remained to meet the Aviva Premiership league leaders with the best squad available.

"We had a specific team for the Oyonnax game looking ahead to this game as well," he said.

"A couple of boys have probably missed out on playing some European football because of the postponement.

"We obviously have to pick our best team and see how guys are going this week.

"The panel will change a little obviously because of who we're playing, who they are, and what they've achieved."

With key players Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar now both coming into the crucial clash with less than 30 minutes of provincial action apiece this season, Barakat is not concerned that they won't be up to speed.

"It would have been really good (to get them time against Oyonnax) but I can refer back to Phil Waugh when I was at the Waratahs," he said.

"He came in late one year from the Wallabies ahead of our first Super Rugby game and we asked him about it.

"He just said, 'I've done this every season for the past 16 years.'

"Rory and Ruan are a little like that; they've been there and done it when it comes to Ulster."

Stade Francais say they are unwilling to stretch government and security personnel at a time of heightened tensions in the capital city.

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