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Best and one more Ulster player ruled out for second half of Harlequins Champions Cup double-header

By Gareth Hanna

Ulster will be without Tommy Bowe as well as inspirational captain Rory Best when Harlequins come to Belfast on Friday night (7.45pm kick-off).

Bowe will be absent after, having nursed a hamstring injury for the first 50 minutes last week, he missed the only full training session of the week.

Ireland skipper Best, meanwhile, missed out on the reverse fixture last Sunday with an infected cut on his ankle, while in his absence Ulster gave their Champions Cup quarter-final hopes a real boost with a hard-fought victory in the London snow.

And it was confirmed by head coach Jono Gibbes yesterday that they will have to do without him again this weekend as the province seek to put themselves in a strong position to claim a best runners-up spot ahead of January's conclusion of the pool.

With the five-day turnaround, and their late arrival back in Belfast on Sunday, Ulster regrouped at the indoor facilities at Jordanstown on Tuesday, with the captain's run tomorrow all that's left before Friday's re-match.

With Luke Marshall and Jared Payne already out with injuries, Bowe's absence robs the team of another option in the 13 jersey, but Gibbes does not believe Ulster are short in that area.

Darren Cave, stuck on 199 Ulster outings since the win over Benetton last month, wasn't involved in the party that travelled to London last weekend, or indeed the A team for their B&I Cup win over Hartbury, but the head coach mooted a possible return, while also citing the flexibility of Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale as options.

"(Bowe) has been nursing a hamstring, he came off early," he said.

"Just because of the way the week's worked, I don't think Tommy will be involved.

"We have Cavey and Ludik, and Stockdale has played there before too, so I think there are enough. We will be alright."

Despite the lack of preparation time available, Gibbes added he has every confidence his side will manage the week well.

"We have had a session here, our travelling home was a bit disrupted but we have pitched up here at Jordanstown, had a run around, there is a good energy there.

"I would not see a massive turnaround (in personnel) from Sunday to the Friday game."

Ahead of Friday night's fixture, Ulster are second in Pool One on eight points. They are seven behind current leaders La Rochelle and two points ahead of second placed Wasps.

The top three runners-up from the five pools also qualifying for the quarter-finals. Ulster's final two pool fixtures are at home to La Rochelle on January 12 and away to Wasps a week later.

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