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Rugby rules create more collisions but make sport more positive, says Ulster coach Peel

Sidelined: Craig Gilroy is out again, this time with a rib issue
Sidelined: Craig Gilroy is out again, this time with a rib issue
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When any member of a side's coaching team sits down to face the media for the first time during the week of a big game, it's a fair assumption he knows what will kick things off.

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Just as Ireland's defence coach Andy Farrell will have suspected that yesterday he needed to be briefed on the respective troubles of Iain Henderson, James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong, the question of injuries is an almost inevitable starting point.

Unfortunately for Ulster, who yesterday charged Dwayne Peel with offering the latest update, it would now almost be quicker to say who is available rather than who isn't.

Winger Craig Gilroy, the side's top scorer this season with nine tries, is the latest to require time on the treatment table and his season has been indicative of Ulster's plight.

He started the season with a back problem, is now nursing a rib complaint and, for good measure, broke a cheekbone in between. There are a myriad of reasons for the province's failings this season, but injuries are certainly chief among them.

As well as four players required for Ireland duty, Ulster are missing a further quarter of their squad for Saturday's Guinness PRO14 clash with Scarlets in west Wales (7.35pm kick-off), many of them frontliners.

Indeed, an argument can be made that the side will have as few as three players starting this weekend who would make the first XV if every member of the squad were available.

While Scarlets will offer little sympathy this weekend - they have 13 in Wales' squad for the Six Nations and John Barclay away with Scotland - there is certainly a feeling that Ulster are again facing into a crucial run with only a skeleton side.

With the likes of Marcell Coetzee, Jared Payne and Charles Piutau among the absentees, those on the sidelines are key men - and, not for the first time, injuries are threatening to derail the season.

While the squad's depth was rarely tested in years like the 2012 run to the Heineken Cup final, since then it has seemed the narrative surrounding this time of year has been one dominated by talk of who isn't, rather than who is, on the field.

Do the province suffer more than most?

"It comes in swings," affirmed Peel. "Sometimes a club will get lots of injuries and other times they're quite lucky.

"The basic facts of it are that people playing are much fitter and bigger now, more explosive too.

"You look at the elements of training we do now, it's all about being explosive, bigger and more powerful.

"That's going to take its toll, collisions are bigger when people are fitter, and the way the rules are at the minute it's creating an open game so there's less work on the breakdown, work on the floor, so there's more collisions in the game in general.

"The more collisions you get the more likely you are to get injuries.

"It's difficult as you know. We have four in the Ireland camp, five now, and we have got a lot of injuries, so it is a challenge for a lot of the squads at the minute."

On the point of the current laws leading to more collisions, Peel does not however feel that any change is required in order to reduce the big impacts.

"It's good for the attack," he said. "The game has evolved and if you look at the game in general at the minute there's more tries being scored and the ball's in play a lot longer.

"I think it's good the way it is. They're always trying to make the game more positive and that's the way to go.

"If you change something to slow the game down then it becomes more of a kicking game and tactical game, but I think it's good to express talent and throw the ball around."

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