Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Ulster Rugby: Fears over Declan Fitzpatrick's heart problem

Declan Fitzpatrick will have to wait to find out how serious his  condition is
Declan Fitzpatrick will have to wait to find out how serious his condition is

Ulster are waiting anxiously to hear just how serious Declan Fitzpatrick's heart problem is.

The nine times-capped Irish international tight-head is due home today having spent the past three nights in a Glasgow hospital to which he was admitted after suffering heart palpitations in Friday's 27-9 PRO12 defeat by the Warriors.

Fitzpatrick – a 38th minute replacement for Ricky Lutton – lasted just 22 minutes in what was his first outing since January 10.

Ulster will await the outcome of the medical assessment of the 30-year-old's condition with understandable trepidation given that former captain Simon Best – a prop, too – was forced to retire with a similar problem.

The past few years have seen former England hooker Lee Mears and Welsh front row pair Rhys Thomas and Lloyd Burns all having to quit with heart problems. That said, Leinster and Ireland hooker Richardt Strauss has been able to resume following heart surgery.

Lutton - the man Fitzpatrick replaced on Friday night - limped off with a toe injury just before half-time. And late on, loose-head Tom Court (shoulder) became the third prop to exit.

With Callum Black (ankle) and John Afoa (back) already sidelined, a season that was looking so good three weeks ago is now in danger of petering out into another ill-fated Ulster campaign, Lady Luck having deserted them.

The controversial dismissal of Jared Payne by French referee Jerome Garces in the Heineken Cup defeat by Saracens was accompanied by an unprecedented injury toll.

Friday's Scotstoun defeat by Glasgow was a further example of crucial refereeing decisions going against Ulster, in tandem with yet more injuries.

Between them, referee John Lacey and TMO Jim Yuille denied Ulster's Nick Williams a try early in the fourth quarter and then, minutes later, credited Glasgow's Mark Bennett with a score when he did not ground the ball.

Ulster captain Johann Muller said: "We scored a try which wasn't allowed, they scored a try which was allowed, so that's a 14-point swing right there which obviously is the difference between winning and losin.

"It seems that it's becoming a common thing now that we're having a go at the ref, but once again he made his decision and obviously the TMO didn't help."

Highlighting Ulster's injury crisis, Muller said: "Three weeks ago we had five props and eight loose forwards lining up and begging to play. Now it's down to the last man standing basically, so it's unbelievable how quickly tings can can change."

As for what happens next he said: "We've got a week to recover mentally and physically and then we play basically two finals because if we lose one of them there won't be any more play-off chances."

With Leinster at home and Munster away to come, coach Mark Anscombe's assessment of his side's PRO12 prospects was: "If we we like we played today we won't get what we want and our season will be all over.

"We've got a bit of an injury toll at the moment so we've got to assess how that is and bounce back and show the character we believe we have. We've got to show that now."

Tomorrow Ulster travel to Carton House - Ireland's Co Kildare hide-away – for a three-day retreat.

Meanwhile, Munster must play their best game ever if Toulon are to be conquered in this weekend's Heineken Cup semi-finals, coach Rob Penney has warned.

"Some individuals are going to have to go beyond where they have been before," the New Zealander said, instantly setting the tone for the build-up towards Sunday's clash with Toulon at the Stade Velodrome.

He had just watched his team take advantage of Connacht's mistakes to claim a relatively comfortable inter-provincial Pro12 derby win, 32,23, in Galway. It wasn't a perfect display, but Munster didn't pick up any injuries and got Conor Murray a short stint at out-half just in case he's needed next week.

They scored four tries to secure a bonus and move back into second for a week at least, with Glasgow four points behind with a game in hand.

It would have been easy for Munster to take their eye off the ball in Galway, but with Paul O'Connell directing things from the second-row, they had the look of hardened professionals in town to do a job.

"This is an exciting part of your life, they don't get any better than this," Penney said. "There is a little bit of history between Toulon and Munster in this competition, so we'll be trying to uncover every little avenue we can to try and tap into those motivational and inspirational moments to see if we can pull out a magical performance."

Connacht coach Pat Lam gave Munster "a great chance" in Toulon as he looked to his own prospects next season, saying: "All coaches' jobs at this time of the year are about who stays and who goes. We're a performance-based business and I'm in the same boat as well, I understand that.

"Looking at our squad we're making decisions based on the vision of where they want to go and to make sure that our plan next year is to qualify for Europe and get into the top six."

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