Jordi Murphy sidelined for South Africa clashes
Ulster don't expect Irish international Jordi Murphy to be out of action for long but have admitted it is "unlikely" that he will see any action until at least the visit to Munster at the end of this month.
The former Leinster flanker was making his debut for the province against Edinburgh last Friday night and sustained damage to his ankle ligaments, definitively ruling him out Sunday's trip to the Southern Kings.
"We're taking it day by day at the moment," said head coach Dan McFarland. "We don't see it as a long-term injury at the moment and we'll reassess as the week goes on. There is potentially (a chance he joins the side for the Cheetahs contest on September 21) but it's unlikely at this stage."
A 30-man touring party will depart Belfast today, flying from Dublin to Johannesburg via Doha, before ultimately making it to their destination in Port Elizabeth. They will be down a few key names for the trip with a five-day turnaround before taking on the Cheetahs in the altitude of Bloemfontein.
Murphy's former Leinster teammate Marty Moore is yet to make his debut for the province since his summer switch from Wasps, the tighthead prop having picked up a calf knock in training.
The A side's contest with Leinster last Friday proved to be a costly one for Ulster too, with Chris Henry, Pete Browne and Jack Owens all picking up injuries that have ruled them out of making today's flight.
Allied to another game for the second string this weekend, and the likes of Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik and Luke Marshall all still unavailable, it's natural to assume that resources will be stretched over the coming fortnight, even though Jean Deysel, Clive Ross and Tom O'Toole have all regained their fitness.
"I'm comfortable with the fact we're taking a squad that can cope with that," added McFarland.
"I think the difficulty comes when you leave yourselves a little thin over there, when you train as a group for a certain length of time and then at the last minute you having to bring people out there.
"So I'm hoping we'll have that covered but you can never say never. Obviously there's a limit on what you can do feasibly and, yeah, it certainly makes it difficult.
"In terms of the planning side of things, we'll go with a team that we feel can beat the Kings and we'll take a look at it going into the Cheetahs game, depending on how the guys rock up the following week."
With a day of travelling between games as they make the journey from Port Elizabeth to Bloemfontein, there will be plenty of air miles racked up over the course of the next 10 days.
And while these are obviously away trips out of the norm, it will be a keen test for McFarland to see if he can take Ulster's home form on the road.
"Obviously we've a difficult trip but it's an exciting one," he added. "Two games, five day turnaround, two dangerous teams at home as we found out last year.
"So I want to see how we go about it. For me it's about going through the processes, making sure you're totally focused, understanding that teams play in front of their home crowds with a little more vim and vigour and understanding that we have to be able combat that to make sure that we're in the game."
Southern Kings will at least be relatively familiar opposition. The sides have met twice in the past 12 months, with Ulster scoring over 100 points but having been given a scare in the away fixture.
The Kings outfit that would ultimately only win one game in their opening season gave their visitors quite the fright in a 12-try thriller where just one score proved the difference.
With a new sponsorship deal in place with car manufacturers Isuzu, the Kings have made a quicker start to this campaign despite having lost both their opening matches, thanks to a pair of bonus points secured last weekend against Dragons.
"I admire the way that they play," added McFarland. "It's full of endeavour and it's full of aggression in every thing they do. They are a very competitive side.
"Their results certainly don't dictate or tell the story of the fear that coaches will have when they're playing against them because they have threats in lots of areas around the park.
"They scored a driving maul against the Dragons at the weekend and, if they are able to get the ball to the edges of the pitch, they've got so much pace.
"In terms of when they get into your 22 they have physicality there as well. They have some big ball carriers, the way they play their support play with guys latching on, it means that your tackling has to be aggressive. We have to be able to take them down, not give them momentum in their play.
"The other thing is, because of the speed they have on the edges, we have to be very, very careful in terms of turning the ball over because anything loose and they're on it. They're capable of scoring tries, as they showed by scoring four last week."