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Stephen Ferris fails to beat clock for Ulster

By Niall Crozier

Ulster will go into Friday night’s Heineken Cup opener against Aironi without Stephen Ferris.

The Lions blindside’s omission is no big surprise, the upper body injury he suffered in the opening minutes of Ulster’s 15-15 draw with Connacht in Galway meaning it was always going to be a race against time.

That being the case, yesterday’s confirmation that he has not made it was pretty much as expected.

On the plus side, Ulster are confident Ferris will be available for their October 17 Heineken Cup match against Biarritz Olympique at Parc des Sports Aguiler.

The other player injured against Connacht, tight head BJ Botha, is in the 29-man squad and his availability, along with Tom Court, Bryan Young and Paddy McAllister, means Ulster have four fully-fledged senior props from whom to choose.

All three hookers — captain Rory Best, Nigel Brady and Andi Kyriacou — are included along with a quartet of locks, namely Johnann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Tim Barker and Ryan Caldwell.

With Ferris missing, Robbie Diack, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry and Willie Faloon are the back row forwards included.

There are no surprises behind the scrum, either, with out-half Niall O’Connor’s inclusion suggesting coach Brian McLaughlin expects him to have recovered from the ankle injury he picked up against Glasgow last Friday night.

If so, the back line is likely to be the same as started that match — Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave in midfield, with Jamie Smith and wingers Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli forming the back three.

Unveiling his squad at Newforge, McLaughlin spoke of his side’s need to play with a new intensity this weekend.

“Aironi are a very physical side. They have a powerful set of forwards, full of Italian internationals and, in Ludovic Mercier, have a very dangerous out-half who puts them in the right place by virtue of his boot,” the Ulster coach said. “So it goes without saying that they’re going to be very difficult to beat.

“We had a tough time against them out there (in the Magners League) and I don’t think it’s going to be any different on Friday night.

“We’re looking to use Europe to up our performance level. We aim to be at our best and performing at our best in what is, after all, the premier competition.”

As for the physical threat the guests will pose, McLaughlin’s attitude was: “We’ve got to match — and beat — them for the first 20-25 minutes and then see what happens.”

Meanwhile, a special all-in package for Ulster’s match against Biarritz Olympique at Parc des Sports Aguilera on Sunday week is available at a reduced price.

Ken Smyth Sports Tours are offering a flights, transfers, hotel and match-ticket deal for just £275.

To book a place, phone 028 92 635203.

And ticket packages for Ireland's Autumn International matches against South Africa and Samoa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin will be available online from Ulster Rugby until 9am tomorrow.

Ireland play the Springboks on Saturday, November 6 (5:30pm) and Samoa on Saturday, November 13 (2:30pm).

The two matches are sold as a package only, priced at £140.

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