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Bittersweet day for Doak's Ulster men as return of Henry and Jackson offset by Olding injury and Williams citing

By Michael Sadlier

It certainly ticked a number of boxes on various fronts. The bonus point win, Chris Henry's return to the fray and Paddy Jackson's first significant game-time since January.

Yes, and then along came the not entirely unexpected citing of Nick Williams which was confirmed yesterday and the injury to Stuart Olding which is thought likely to have ended his season.

But back to the positives. The five points, Henry's cameo, Jackson's showing, and the electric scoring form being shown by Craig Gilroy, could hardly have been better timed as Ulster, who are now still second but just two behind leaders Glasgow, begin the approach to their last four regulation games with the next one being at Connacht on April 11.

All that and the fact that Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne will be back in harness for the Galway clash will be another boost to Ulster's plans as will Stuart McCloskey who will have served out his ban and, hopefully, Roger Wilson who missed last Friday's game due to personal reasons.

But it was still hard to ignore the flip side. Williams's citing for allegedly striking Rhys Patchell in an incident which saw the full-back being stretchered off, and having to spend a night in hospital for precautionary reasons, looked a pretty certain outcome and having any player potentially banned at the business end of the season could be particularly damaging.

If handed down a ban, Williams will join Luke Marshall who is still serving his time for an earlier citing in last month's win over the Scarlets.

On the night, Williams was shown yellow for the offence and Ulster's disciplinary issues continued with Franco van der Merwe also being binned later in the opening half.

And Ulster had their own injury situation to absorb with the sight of Stuart Olding being stretchered off only four minutes into his comeback game with what is believed to be a ruptured cruciate ligament - the same injury to the same knee which sidelined him for virtually all of last season.

As for Ruan Pienaar, the knock he took to his arm was described as being no more than a 'stinger' and, therefore, not considered to be threatening his fitness for the trip to Galway.

"We're pretty used to yellow cards so it's water off a duck's back now to us," said Doak, masking his frustration at Friday night's two cards with a hint of humour.

"Our discipline is something ... maybe if I stop talking about it, it will go away," he added and with four yellows, one red card and Marshall's ban having come Ulster's way in their last four outings this has to be urgently addressed.

"We've got to be better and going down to 14-men twice in the game it's always going to be difficult," the coach added of last Friday.

"I think maybe that's why players were working that bit harder because we were down to 14 and it did get a little bit loose and fatigue did set in," stated Doak after watching his squad surrender a 21-0 lead to allow the Blues to close in at 21-17.

But when the pressure was on in the second half, the energy brought into proceedings by the home side's bench, with Henry, Robbie Diack and Ian Humphreys all being prominent, helped stem the tide.

Ulster finally got back on the front-foot to claim two late game-securing scores from Louis Ludik - his second of the night - the the bonus try from Paul Marshall courtesy of Iain Henderson. All a case of good, but could be better.

Belfast Telegraph


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