Belfast Telegraph

RaboDirect Pro12: McLaughlin flies solo as Ulster captains go missing

By Niall Crozier

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin normally sits alongside his team’s captain at the unveiling of the provisional squad for the weekend’s fixture.

Mac flies solo as his captains go missing Captain’s duties: Paddy Wallace will lead Ulster in their Pro12 League clash with Edinburgh at Ravenhill on Friday nightBY NIALL CROZIER

ULSTER coach Brian McLaughlin normally sits alongside his team’s captain at the unveiling of the provisional squad for the weekend’s fixture.

Yesterday, however, McLaughlin sat alone. With Johann Muller not yet recovered from the calf injury he suffered in training a month ago and Chris Henry — who normally deputises in the Springbok’s absence — at Ireland’s RBS 6Nations camp in Co Kildare, there was no skipper.

Henry has been named in Ulster’s 33-strong provisional squad, but whatever happens he will not start against Edinburgh at Ravenhill on Friday night (7:05).

McLaughlin explained: “We’re just waiting to see what happens in relation to Chris. Depending on how much he trains (with Ireland) we’ll make a decision later in the week. He definitely won’t start.”

Indeed, Henry may not even be in the country. The Ulster coach said: “I suppose he could be travelling (with Ireland) as the 24th man as he did for the last French game. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.”

In similar circumstances when Ulster played Newport Gwent Dragons three weeks ago in Belfast, All Blacks World Cup-winning prop John Afoa led the side. On this occasion, however, the job has gone to Paddy Wallace.

With Muller missing and Darren Cave (ligament) still not ready to resume, Simon Danielli — a replacement in last week’s 15-14 home win against Ospreys — joined the list of absentees after picking up a hamstring injury.

A scan has revealed a Grade 1-2 tear which will sideline the Scottish international winger for the next four-six weeks.

“Unfortunate, but that’s the way,” McLaughlin said.

He added: “Ali Birch continues to make progress and Declan (Fitzpatrick) is continuing on his rehab, though he’s still struggling a little bit with his neck.”

Asked to elaborate on the position with regard to Fitzpatrick, who has not played since November 25, the coach replied: “He seems just at the minute to be taking a few steps forward and then a step back. It’s one of those things and with the neck we don’t want to force it.

“It’s just a matter of making sure Declan’s right with it and then we’ll push things on.”

The news on Muller and Cave was more encouraging, however. “Johann ran well today and Darren is making great progress so we’re very hopeful that those two will be back for our visit to Treviso (March 24),” McLaughlin said.

With Ireland Under 20s not in action this weekend out-half Paddy Jackson and lock forward Iain Henderson have been added to the Ulster squad, along with hooker Niall Annett who captained the side in last summer’s Under 20s World Cup in Italy.

Ulster have won four of their last five fixtures against Edinburgh, who have lost their last five Pro12 games.

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