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Henderson and Bowe are nearing a return for Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster received some much needed good news yesterday with Tommy Bowe and Iain Henderson still on course to return in time for the season's conclusion.

Les Kiss' men have certainly missed two of their frontliners - highlighted by the weekend loss to Cardiff - both of whom have been absent for a long stretch of the campaign.

Bowe suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury in Ireland's World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina back in October and ultimately required surgery.

The two-time Lion has not played since but Ulster described his progress as "excellent" and he will have a further review with the surgeon this week.

Like Bowe, Henderson returned from the World Cup injured and, while he bounced back quickly from a hand issue, he suffered a significant hamstring tear in just his third provincial game of the year.

He has played only 12 times for the Kingspan outfit since the start of last season thanks to a string of injuries but Ulster remain confident he will feature again this season.

There was less definitive news on Dan Tuohy, Wiehahn Herbst and Willie Faloon with no clear timetable set on that trio's return.

After suffering "inconsistent progress" through his recovery from a broken foot, Tuohy will have exploratory surgery while Herbst needs further assessment to determine his availability for the rest of the season.

Bowe and Henderson - coupled with the likes of Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne from the Six Nations - would increase the options available to Kiss for what seems set to be a defining run of games in April and May.

The return of seasoned campaigners will be relied upon to provide a shot in the arm during a testing run-in.

Left with little margin for error thanks to back-to-back and unexpected defeats, Ulster have slumped from top to fourth over the last fortnight and, after facing Zebre on Friday, have only five games remaining.

With Connacht and Leinster - the PRO12's top two - to visit Belfast, as well as trips to Glasgow and Ospreys among that quintet, Ulster need a healthy return of points if they are to maintain a play-off push.

They currently sit four points ahead of fifth-place Edinburgh, though if Munster and Glasgow were to win their games in hand they would both leapfrog the province in the standings.

Yesterday's injury update raised doubts over the fitness of No.8 Nick Williams, centre Luke Marshall and out-half Ian Humphreys for this weekend's game.

Williams has been carrying a shoulder problem, Marshall was subbed off against Cardiff with an ankle knock and Humphreys missed the trip to the Welsh capital with what was described as a hip/back issue.

Lock Alan O'Connor and Paul Marshall have both shaken off a virus to be available while Rob Herring is also expected to play after a hamstring niggle.

The game will come too soon for Louis Ludik, however, with the versatile South African expected to return from his abductor problem in time for the visit to Glasgow at the end of this month.

Sammy Arnold picked up a low-grade hamstring tear for the second time this season in the loss at Arms Park and will again spend two to three weeks on the sidelines.

Belfast Telegraph


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