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Neil Doak is hoping the tide will turn for depleted Ulster

By Jonathan Bradley

After losing Ireland internationals Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson to injury, Ulster head coach Neil Doak is praying no further misfortune befalls his stretched squad.

The Kingspan outfit will be without Bowe for at least six months following knee surgery earlier this week while both Henderson and Payne are expected to be out until around Christmas after also picking up injuries at the World Cup.

Doak said: "From our point of view, it was a pretty attritional tournament.

"The guys unfortunately picked up those issues and unfortunately for us they have been major ones.

"They're going to be out for a while but we've just got to plug the holes accordingly.

"The rest of the guys are now going to be getting opportunities but it's just if you pick up any more injuries on top of that it will clearly stretch our resources.

"At the moment we can probably cope with those guys being out because the rest of the squad aren't in too bad a shape."

Without Henderson for the foreseeable future, and with Rory Best not expected back until the Newport game next week, Ulster's scrum will no doubt be preparing for another stern examination at the hands of Munster on Friday night but according to prop Wiehahn Herbst, any recent struggles can be attributed to "interpretations".

The dark arts of front row play mean a scrum can be a mysterious beast at times, with those players not at the coalface often admitting they have little or no idea what's going on when the heavies collide.

What is often apparent to even the most detached of observers, however, is an increasing penalty count but Herbst is not willing to concede that hearing the referee's whistle with more frequency this term is an indication that all is not well with a unit that functioned so effectively last season.

The tight-head, in his second season with the province, said: "The first game we played against Ospreys wasn't great but we've worked and worked over the last couple of weeks.

"We're starting to get our form but it's a test this weekend. That's what props are made for, we're always looking for a challenge.

"I think the referees have put more emphasis on the scrum this year. If they see one cue, rather than let the whole thing collapse and start over, they're probably just going to give a penalty.

"It's not necessarily the right call but that's what I think."

Having not won away since April, Herbst knows that ahead of trips to Munster, Newport and Oyonnax, the time to rectify the poor record is now.

"It's a big game, the inter-pro always gives that little extra spice," he said. "It's away from home and we haven't been great away from home. The next three games are all away so it's really important we stick together.

"We have to be disciplined and do what we want to do, not let them do what they want to do."

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