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Ulster's injury woes deepen as star man Charles Piutau is sidelined

Kiss has to shuffle deck with Gilroy also unavailable

By Michael Sadlier

Published 09/09/2016

Huge blow: Charles Piutau is out of the trip to Treviso
Huge blow: Charles Piutau is out of the trip to Treviso
Neil Doak insists the Ruan Pienaar controversy will not distract Ulster

After all the hype, it seemed inevitable that something would give. And now it has - star signing Charles Piutau has joined the injury list ahead of tomorrow's game at Treviso.

Though the issue, described as a minor thumb injury picked up in training, is not expected to keep the All Black sidelined for more than Ulster's first away trip of the campaign - meaning he should be back for next week's home clash with the Scarlets - it is still a significant loss from Les Kiss' starting side.

Still, at least there is some decent strength in depth at full-back with both Stuart Olding and the believed to be fit-again Louis Ludik able to more than adequately cover as Ulster go chasing two wins from two in Italy.

Also out of tomorrow's game are Craig Gilroy (he had a concussion and is now following return to play protocols) and Paul Marshall (rib cartilage injury) who both picked up their knocks in last Friday's 29-8 bonus-point opening win over the Dragons, with the latter not expected to be back until later in the month.

Gilroy's loss should mean that rising star Rob Lyttle gets another chance to show his talent after scoring twice from the bench against the Dragons last Friday night.

But back to Piutau and Ulster head coach Neil Doak has outlined the importance of Ulster's stellar signing being mostly available this season as the province bid to finally end what is already a 10-year silverware drought.

Thought the All Black won't be seen at the Stadio Monigo tomorrow, he has already shown his significant value.

"Individually, he's (Piutau) a quality player," said Doak with a certain amount of understatement.

"He's a tremendous broken field runner, he's a very good carrier and tremendous defensively too."

Though the Kiwi was reasonably quiet against the Dragons, he was able to draw worried defenders to him and therefore create space for others to take the glory.

Doak, whose area of expertise is in crafting Ulster's attacking plays, added of the 24-year-old: "He's a pretty special player.

"And I think the two young guys (Rob Lyttle and Jacob Stockdale) either side of him are growing off that.

"Against Northampton he broke through and Jacob got on the end of that break and offload to score."

He also had an assist for Lyttle's spectacular second against the Dragons.

"It's a case of 'get the ball to Charles and we'll play off him'," admitted the coach.

And what of the other issue still dominating most conversations surrounding Ulster Rugby, namely Ruan Pienaar's departure at season's end after the IRFU refused to grant him a new deal?

"It is what it is," said Doak, treading warily on the issue.

"It's very disappointing from Ruan's point of view, and from our point of view, but you've also got to see it from the IRFU's point of view as well.

"A lot of the off-field stuff will distract other people, but our focus is to win games.

"We've (at Ulster) just got to make sure that we have a successful season, one that he can remember, and one where we also have a trophy at the end of it."

Meanwhile, also on the injury front, both flanker Chris Henry (shoulder) and tight-head prop Wiehahn Herbst (groin) are expected to be available within the next eight weeks following their pre-season surgeries.

Tight-head prop Ricky Lutton and hooker Johnny Murphy both have groin issues and should be back within the next month while the recovery being made by long-termers Dan Tuohy (ankle) and Tommy Bowe (knee) could see them back any time between the next four to six weeks.

It isn't so promising for Peter Nelson as no return to play date has yet been set following last December's mid-foot injury.

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