Ulster up front over injury worries
Ulster are facing a potential front row crisis with news that South African prop BJ Botha damaged ligaments in his hand during the draw with Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.
Botha came off the bench at half-time in Galway and immediately improved the Ulster scrum, but had to come off three minutes from the end with the hand injury.
At first it was feared the tight head had broken a bone but an x-ray yesterday morning revealed ligament damage. Botha must undergo a scan to access the full extent of the injury but he could be sidelined for a number of weeks.
Italians Aironi visit Ravenhill for the start of the Heineken Cup on Friday week and Ulster are already numbers down in the front row with Declan Fitzpatrick and Adam Macklin sidelined.
Fitzpatrick could be out for another two months after suffering a tear in his calf, while Macklin is probably out for the season after breaking his ankle playing for the Ravens against Munster.
Ulster have included Ballynahinch front rower Jerry Cronin in their Heineken Cup squad.
Cronin, who represented Munster Juniors, can play any position in the front row and worked with McLaughlin during Hinch's all-conquering 2009 season.
Ulster are also awaiting news on Ireland and Lions flanker Stephen Ferris.
The loose forward lasted only 10 minutes in Galway after injuring his shoulder, but his injury is not thought to be as serious as Botha’s.
Ulster's hard-earned draw with the Western Province saw them slip to fourth in the table, but they remain as one of only two unbeaten teams in the Magners League.
Glasgow visit Ravenhill on Friday night and big-name summer signing Ruan Pienaar is set to make his Ulster debut.
The Springbok scrum half has been sidelined since late July after picking up an AC joint injury playing in the Currie Cup for Natal so Ulster will be keen to get him some game time before the visit of the Italians.
Ulster utility back Paddy Wallace believes it's important for Ulster to get a fourth win out of five games before going into Europe.
“As a team we want to grow, get better at that and move on,” Wallace said.
“We have another big match against Glasgow and we need to go into Europe on a high note.”