Injury-hit Jared Payne ruled out of Ulster's must-win Munster showdown
Ulster will be without their influential Ireland international Jared Payne for Saturday's make-or-break trip to Munster. The full-back-cum-centre limped out of the 24-24 draw with Cardiff last Friday despite trying to struggle on in the second half, with a scan later revealing that he will be out of action for up to three weeks.
While that rules him out of the weekend visit to Thomond, a game Ulster almost certainly must win if they are to have hopes of a top-four place, Director of Rugby Les Kiss remains optimistic that the 31-year-old will return in time to face Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium before the end of this month.
"Jared will not play this week and we will see how that goes," revealed the Australian.
"It is an ankle sprain, sort of a twist.
"He felt good at half-time (against Cardiff).
"It was weird, he felt he could give it a go, came back out and ran the ball a few times.
"It was not anything major, but the scans have shown a few little things.
"Hopefully it'll be two to three weeks max, if not one. We have next week off, so hopefully he'll be good for Ospreys."
Ulster will, however, have Chris Henry back for their latest inter-pro after the flanker overcame what Kiss described as a "shoulder/neck niggle".
While still dissatisfied with his side allowing their six-game winning streak to come to a close against the Blues last time out, Kiss reiterated that his side's play-off destiny is still in their own hands despite sitting fifth in the table with just three games remaining.
"Two points was enough to keep us right in the hunt but we dropped the opportunity to really push ourselves into a good spot," he added.
"They say a draw is like kissing your sister and it certainly felt like that.
"We have tried to pull the positives from it. We know we are still in the hunt but we were disappointed with certain executions on the pitch at times.
"Sometimes it is the right decision but a poor execution, sometimes we are just making the wrong decision.
"You do not hold it against a guy, but a couple of missed tackles were costly.
"But ultimately we had a chance and we just did not take it."