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Injury-hit Ulster ready to enter Dragons’ den


Chirs Henry

Chirs Henry

Chirs Henry

As has become the norm, coach Brian McLaughlin has named a 31-man squad ahead of Ulster’s final Magners League game of the regular season.

With a place in the following weekend’s semi-finals at stake, Ulster face Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night.

Such is the intriguing state of play that, depending on their own result and others elsewhere, Ulster could finish anywhere from second to fifth.

Second would earn McLaughlin’s men a home semi-final pairing against the side finishing third.

A third-place finish would see Ulster travelling to face the runners-up — in all probability Leinster, who are fancied to beat Glasgow on Friday.

Fourth would mean a trek to Limerick where table-topping Munster await at Thomond Park.

Fifth would spell the end of Ulster’s season and failure to achieve their pre-season target of inclusion in the top four.

They will travel without injured Irish international trio Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble.

Ferris has been sidelined by a knee injury picked up in the Heineken Cup rout of Aironi in Viadana on January 22 while Wallace and Trimble each suffered a broken thumb in Ulster’s mid-April Magners League defeat by Leinster at the RDS.

Meanwhile, Springbok tight-head BJ Botha is ruled out as a result of the knee injury he suffered against Leinster.

And although open-side Willie Faloon has been named in the squad, which will be trimmed to 15 starters and eight replacements tomorrow, he is unlikely to play after damaging a shoulder when he slipped in training last Friday.

But there is better news on props Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick.

“They trained with no ill-effects so we’re hopeful that they will both be grand for the weekend,” said the coach.

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McLaughlin described the Dragons’ 28-15 home win over Cardiff Blues last Friday as “very impressive”.

“They played exceptionally well and we know they’re a very dangerous animal at home. We know that only too well,” he said.

”We were well beaten last season at Rodney Parade.”

Indeed they were, for Ulster’s most recent trip to Newport — September 6, 2009 — saw them finish on the wrong side of a 23-6 scoreline in what was the first competitive match of McLaughlin’s reign. That hurt him and he has not forgotten how it felt.

The fact a losing bonus would be enough to give Ulster a place in next weekend’s semi-finals is of no interest whatsoever to their coach.

“That’s something we haven’t even mentioned. The only thing for us to do on Friday night is to go, be positive and be confident knowing that we can play and win the game. That’s what we’re looking to do,” McLaughlin said.