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Big chill plays into Ulster’s hands

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The frozen Ravenhill pitch was never going to be ready in time to stage tomorrow's Manger's League match

The frozen Ravenhill pitch was never going to be ready in time to stage tomorrow's Manger's League match

The frozen Ravenhill pitch was never going to be ready in time to stage tomorrow's Manger's League match

The postponement of tomorrow night’s Magners League date with Ospreys may prove to be a blessing in disguise for Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin.

In naming his 28-man squad on Tuesday, McLaughlin had been forced to include three players whose fitness was in doubt.

The inclusion of Irish centre, Paddy Wallace, plus back row pair, Willie Faloon and David Pollock, was a thinly veiled attempt to buy time in the hope that at least one of the injured trio would come through with a declaration of full fitness ahead of the cut-off point for confirming the team.

McLaughlin is shrewd in making maximum use of the format whereby an initial squad is named before being trimmed to 15 starters and seven substitutes — eight in the Heineken Cup — ahead of the match.

For example, in the pre-Christmas European meeting with Stade Francais at Ravenhill, the wily Ulster coach included BJ Botha, despite knowing that he had no chance of being fit.

Afterwards he admitted it had been a ploy to con the Parisians into believing that the South African tight-head would play, leading them to plan accordingly. It worked a treat.

His tactics this time were rather more transparent. Knowing that in reducing his squad to match-size proportions he would have to jettison six players anyway, he included three who, best case scenario, would have been ready and, worst case scenario, would not. Clever use of options.

Faloon was the least likely to have played in view of the first-half neck-shoulder injury he picked up against Munster on Saturday night. Having been replaced at half-time, with Thomas Anderson taking over, his chances of making it were very slim.

Wallace — plagued by a slow-to-heal ankle problem dating back to late November when he retired at the end of the first quarter of Ireland’s Croke Park clash with South Africa — has not looked right since returning. And although he started last weekend, he limped out of the action in the second period.

So significant doubt surrounded his availability, too.

Pollock was the most likely of the three to have been fit to start a match which now will not be played. But the upshot of this unexpected reprieve is that McLaughlin has been given a little more of what he had been trying to buy this week, namely time.

It means that each of the trio now has a realistic chance of being fit for next week’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 Ravenhill rematch with Edinburgh.

And with there being no game this weekend, that should mean no further injury problems ahead of that all-important Belfast date with the Scots.

Meanwhile Connacht's Magners League match against the Dragons, scheduled for tomorrow evening at the Sportsground, is off, too.

With the Dragons having difficulty travelling from Wales and doubts over whether the Sportsground would be playable, the decision to postpone the game was taken yesterday afternoon.

Connacht CEO Gerry Kelly said: “The Dragons were due to fly from Luton to Galway on Thursday but they told us they would have difficulty getting to the airport, especially following the overnight deterioration of the weather in the UK.

“Even then there would be no guarantee of flights operating.

“We discussed this matter with the Magners League. The difficulty our supporters might have had trying to get to the venue was also a factor.”

The pitch at the Sportsground had been covered since last Thursday and heaters had been in operation, too. All to no avail, alas.

Belfast Telegraph