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Ulster now face back row crisis

By Gavin Mairs

As if Ulster's situation could not get any worse, caretaker coach Steve Williams is now facing a back row crisis ahead of Friday's Heineken Cup trip to Neath/Swansea Ospreys.

With Roger Wilson ruled out for up to eight weeks having sustained a broken thumb in Friday night's defeat to Edinburgh, and Stephen Ferris and Neil McMillan also still out injured, Ulster only have three recognised back row players fit in their Heineken Cup squad.

And Williams' selection problems could be hit further if lock Ryan Caldwell landed with a suspension having been cited for foul play by Belfast Harlequins during the Ulster Senior League clash against Dungannon.

Rookie David Pollock will have to play No 8 on Friday, with either Kieron Dawson coming in at openside or Matt McCullough dropping back from second row to the blindside flank and Neil Best switching to No 7.

Justin Harrison would then return the second row, having played for the Barbarians in their victory over South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.

But if Caldwell is suspended at his hearing on Wednesday night, Ulster would then either have no cover in the back row or second row, depending on Williams' selection, as the squad's other registered second row, Tim Barker, was released last month to join French club Castres.

Ulster can bring in a one player during the pool stages, which they had hoped to be a tighthead prop as a replacement for Simon Best who is unlikely to play again this season because of a heart complaint. But it now seems certain it will have to be filled by a back five forward, with Williams having until Wednesday lunchtime to make that call - before Caldwell learns of his fate.

Ulster chief executive Michael Reid has been in contact with around 30 players over the weekend, but any player coming from the southern hemisphere would effectively have to depart tonight in order to be in the country for registration by Wednesday.

A more likely option is that Ballymena back row forward Chris Henry, a player of great potential, is registered instead.

Neil McMillan is expected to be fit to return to action next week, which would then alleviate the numbers problem.

More rugby: See pages 25/26

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