Belfast Telegraph

Stuart McCloskey may join Ulster in South Africa as injury worries mount ahead of Southern Kings game

Helping hand: Dan McFarland and Stuart McCloskey
could soon be reunited in South Africa
Helping hand: Dan McFarland and Stuart McCloskey could soon be reunited in South Africa

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey could be set to link up with the squad in South Africa ahead of Saturday's clash at the Southern Kings.

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The hard-running 27-year-old has been out with injury since featuring, and scoring, in last month's final pre-season friendly with Glasgow but it is thought that he may fly out in the wake of last weekend's record-equalling nine-try mauling at the Cheetahs.

Though Ulster coach Dan McFarland would not actually confirm whether McCloskey is part of his plans for the final leg of the two-game mini-tour, it is believed that he may well be parachuted in to face the Kings.

"Possibly, yes," was all McFarland was prepared to say regarding McCloskey being brought out.

Ulster are already without Michael Lowry, who is ruled out of any involvement after picking up an ankle injury in the 63-26 humbling at the hands of Ruan Pienaar and his Cheetahs team-mates, while it is also unclear if centre James Hume, who scored one of the visitors' four tries, is completely fit after shipping a heavy blow to the nose in Bloemfontein.

It is also unclear if out-half Billy Burns will be in the mix - it is now believed that he may have had a knock which kept him out of the Cheetahs game.

Loosehead prop Jack McGrath didn't play due to a toe injury and it has not been made known if he will face the Kings, who have former Ulster prop Robbie Kempson in charge of the squad.

Neither does it seem certain that Marcell Coetzee will be deployed, though if he is in any way fit it would seem highly likely that his powerful carrying would be just what is needed in Port Elizabeth as would McCloskey's strength in both attack and defence if he makes it out.

This week, so far, has been about Ulster licking their wounds down at sea level in Cape Town while preparing to strike back from last Saturday's hammering at Bloemfontein's altitude.

They move along the coast later this week ahead of Saturday's game with the Kings, where McFarland is determined to get a positive result against a side which have lost - albeit narrowly - their first two games, both at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

"We've moved on quickly," McFarland stated of the Cheetahs experience.

"We came up against a team that was on a roll after winning the Currie Cup.

"We went into that game knowing that if we weren't able to control possession then we would be punished."

And punished they were. Ulster's set-pieces and defensive shapes were in deep trouble for large swathes of the game with the province trailing 47-7 early in the second half.

"That second half became a bit of a basketball game," admitted McFarland.

"We just knew that we needed four tries, so we went out in that second half with that objective and I suspect two or three of their (the Cheetahs') tries were off the back of that.

"We lost four lineouts and two mauls were turned over and against the Cheetahs you can't do that."

Similarly, in missing 30 tackles - admittedly the Cheetahs racked up 34 in this area but were so far out of sight that it hardly mattered - Ulster could hardly expect much more than a horrible defeat which fell only one point shy of emulating the record 64 they conceded to Munster in Limerick just over a year ago.

Ulster did, of course, bag their try bonus which, understandably, is seen as something to take towards the Kings even if the abiding memory of being at the Toyota Stadium's altitude is one of being so badly turned over.

"Rectifying the things that we've worked on (in training)," was how McFarland summed up Ulster's approach this week.

"The Kings have got a new coaching team and are playing a different style. Last year was very open, this season they are far more risk averse.

"Their game is built around a very strong kicking game and maul from the lineout and they also have some extremely dangerous backs.

"For us it's a case of understanding what they're about and getting parts of our game that we didn't get right last week, right this week."

There's a lot to work on then.

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