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Mixed bag for Ulster Rugby

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster's bid to bounce back from last weekend's defeat at Leinster looks set to be boosted by the return to action of Chris Henry and Nick Williams while Iain Henderson should also be in the mix for Friday night's must-win interprovincial clash with Munster at a sold-out Ravenhill (kick-off 7.05pm).

All three players returned to training this week though Henry and Williams look more certain to be in line to actually start on Friday as fifth-placed Ulster bid to put their RDS defeat firmly behind them to stay in close touch with the league's top four ahead of two weekends of critical European games.

Henry has been sidelined since early November thanks to a hamstring problem he picked up playing for Ireland against Samoa, while Henderson has been missing since he damaged his hamstring in Ulster's win over Edinburgh late last month which was the same game that Williams picked up a calf injury.

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe will doubtless be keen to blend the three backrowers into his side –Henderson, who can also play second row, may well be on the bench – to bring some fresh legs to their pressing need to beat PRO12 leaders Munster as well as granting the players some valuable game-time ahead of the last two group stage rounds of the Heineken Cup in which pool-topping Ulster are the only unbeaten side in the competition.

But, as ever, there are new issues to cause Anscombe concern with Luke Marshall, Darren Cave and Rob Herring all picking up unspecified soft tissue injuries on Saturday evening.

Though all three should hopefully be involved on Friday night, the knocks to Luke Marshall and Cave are somewhat worrying as Ulster's midfield cover is looking rather thin on the ground right now with veteran centre Paddy Wallace now out for three weeks after sustaining a leg injury in his first game back against Zebre.

Elsewhere, skipper Johann Muller will be available after being rested against Leinster while John Afoa should be back from New Zealand.

As for Rory Best and Tommy Bowe, it seems more likely that they may return to some form of action during the European games with Montpellier and Leicester Tigers.

Meanwhile, it proved to be anything but a memorable return to the RDS for Robbie Diack.

The last time the 28-year-old old back rower had played at Leinster's ground was in the PRO12 final of last May which not only saw him held up over the line when a try was beckoning but also resulted in him being shown yellow by referee John Lacey.

Last Saturday he at least didn't fall foul of the same referee again but, once more, experienced the hurt of defeat as skipper of Ulster's beaten side and did so despite the fact Leinster were clearly understrength.

"Hopefully we can rectify it all for Munster and with the hurt from this there's going to be a big reaction this week," he added.

Diack was one of the few visiting players to emerge with still reasonably robust reputations.

"I think there was just a lack of accuracy and precision," he said.

Despite some heroic defending – not least from Diack himself – Ulster were under severe pressure at the breakdown and Diack admitted that they struggled in this area, with Mr Lacey's whistle.

"It was frustrating for us we did get a couple of early turnovers there on the floor and then we got a few penalties against us.

"I think in those 50/50 chances when you have an opportunity to go for it on the floor, we decided to leave it especially in our 22 as we didn't want to be giving stupid penalties there. Unfortunately we gave away a few more which they kicked.

"He (the referee) warned us which took away our confidence on the floor."

Diack also criticised himself over his 'playing' of the referee.

"Referees don't like being hounded by captains and maybe that's something I'm going to have to learn and go back and have a chat to past captains or Johann and Rory and just get a little bit of advice from them," Diack added.

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