Les Kiss sure Ulster can win derby match despite crisis
Despite a raft of absentees ahead of Munster's visit on Friday night (7.05pm kick-off), Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has declared his side are focusing only on the players they do have available for the season's second inter-pro.
Four injuries shipped during last weekend's win over Exeter in the Champions Cup coupled with the proximity of Ireland's first Test match of the season - Joe Schmidt's men face the All Blacks in Chicago on November 5 - have left the Australian short of options in some key areas.
Tight-head prop, a position of some concern throughout the season, is again a worry after Rodney Ah You injured his knee and Ross Kane suffered a facial laceration that required stitches.
The two men, the only pair who have lodged minutes at tight-head this season, will both be out on Friday.
"Suddenly you think you're alright and then a couple more go down," said Kiss of the injuries.
"That's the nature of the situation. We can't concern ourselves with what we don't have.
"We have to get on with it and back what we do have. The most important thing is the players we have, the mission ahead of us, which is Munster. It's a massive game for us."
In the absence of Ah You and Kane, and with Ricky Lutton and short-term signing Anton Peikrishvili still injured, Wiehahn Herbst could be pressed into a quick return.
The South African project player has not featured for the senior side since January but lodged 40 minutes in his tune-up with the 'A' side in their British and Irish Cup defeat to London Scottish last weekend.
"Wiehahn went very well. He had 40 minutes with the 'A' team and we know the class that he does offer. He's an excellent tight-head. He may be short of a run but we have to consider him now given the situation," he said.
"In terms of fitness, he's good enough to start. We had a scrummaging session today, we'll take a look at that and finalise the decision," said Kiss yesterday.
With the lack of numbers, loosehead Andy Warwick, who has occasionally worn the number three jersey, could provide cover on the other side of the scrum.
"Andy has done an exceptional job a few times when he's come in there," added Kiss.
"Certainly it's not his main area but he's one of those dogged characters who will fight for every inch.
"He won't offer any excuses about what the result of anything is and he won't celebrate too much if it does go well."
Ulster's stock of second-rowers is also depleted with Alan O'Connor and Pete Browne both lost to concussion but Dan Tuohy has rebounded from a hip problem picked up on 'A' duty while Robbie Diack is another option to play alongside Franco van der Merwe.
Similarly, in what has been a revolving midfield door in recent weeks, Stuart Olding has been ruled out but Darren Cave is vying for a return.
Kiss must also combat the fact that his front-line internationals will be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of Ireland's busy November.
With the squad for a quartet of Tests expected to be named today, Ulster can anticipate having Rory Best, Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble held out on Friday.
Iain Henderson would have joined them if not for a shoulder injury that is expected to see him out of action for between two and four weeks.
Despite seeing a host of Irish internationals being held out of the marquee fixture, Kiss has defended the scheduling of what is a sold-out contest so close to the Test window.
"We (Ireland) wouldn't normally travel and it's just bad luck," he said.
"All the clubs want their best players playing as much as possible but there is a bigger picture."
He added: "It's a one-off, we knew a long time out, and it gives us a chance to look at a number of younger guys which is important too."