RaboDirect Pro12: Jackson and Spence face fitness battle
With Europe put on the back-burner until mid-January, Ulster now turn their attentions towards reviving their PRO12 League campaign as the usual interprovincial clashes with both Leinster and Munster due to be played out during Christmas week.
Though Ulster came away from Aironi on Saturday with a second successive haul of maximum points to put them top of Pool Four, they didn’t escape Monza entirely unscathed with both Nevin Spence and Paddy Jackson leaving the action with ankle injuries.
The availability of both players for next week’s PRO12 clashes — starting with table-toppers Leinster at the RDS on Boxing Day ahead of Friday’s Ravenhill meeting with Munster — is still unclear and though Jackson is thought to be in slightly better shape than Spence, both are being closely monitored and may be scanned later this week after having their injuries stabilised.
Should they both be ruled out for the Leinster and Munster games — encounters Ulster really must win to get their PRO12 season heading in the right direction — it will leave Ulster’s midfield cover looking rather thin on the ground as both Paddy Wallace and Luke Marshall are still out with thumb and ankle injuries respectively.
Ulster’s options then would likely see Stefan Terblanche selected alongside Darren Cave while Ian Whitten could provide cover on the bench while Andrew Trimble might also be called upon.
Ironically, enough, Jackson had come on for Spence, who departed shortly after the start of the second half against Aironi, and the 19-year-old was playing in midfield — even though the experienced Terblanche was on the wing for Trimble — when he had to be carried off after only about 10 minutes of game time.
The loss of Jackson meant that with only two replacements left on Ulster’s bench — hooker Nigel Brady and prop Adam Macklin — it fell to Brady to come on and then fill in at flanker while Stephen Ferris was shifted out to centre as Ulster’s early substitution of Trimble backfired.
It was particularly unfortunate for Spence to get injured again particularly after there had been doubts about his fitness following a bang on the ribs against the Italians in the first round of back-to-back European games.
Elsewhere, Ulster are believed to have come through with a clean bill of health with Trimble being taken off as a precautionary move by the management while fellow try scorer Tom Court is thought to have departed early due to the IRFU player management programme which seems likely to have quite a bearing on Ulster's selection for the Leinster game.
Elsewhere on the injury front, newly married prop Declan Fitzpatrick’s neck problem is thought likely to keep him out of action for another fortnight while flanker Michael McComish picked up a soft tissue shoulder injury while playing for Ulster Ravens who booked their place in the last eight of the B&I Cup with a bonus point result at Rotherham Titans on Saturday.
The Ravens will now host Munster A in their quarter-final to be played on a date to be confirmed on either January 20 or 21st.