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Ulster injury woe leaves Kiss with a European Cup headache

By Jonathan Bradley

With the hamstring injury picked up by Iain Henderson in Friday's 14-7 win over Edinburgh set to keep him out until 2016, Ulster face a nervous wait for news on the rest of their walking wounded ahead of the vital Champions Cup clash with Toulouse at home in four days' time.

The province battled their way to four imperative league points at a wind-swept Kingspan over the weekend but the victory, which lifted them to fifth in the Guinness PRO12 table, came at a considerable cost with Henderson, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy and Peter Nelson all unable to see out the game.

Having starred at the World Cup for Ireland, Henderson only returned from the hand injury sustained in the quarter-final defeat to Argentina when Ulster faced Saracens two weeks ago but is now set for another spell on the sidelines.

After a lengthy attempt to stretch out his left hamstring, strained while diving for a loose ball in the fourth minute on Friday night, the 23-year-old did rise to his feet but in the end was carted from the field.

He will now miss a crucial run of fixtures for Ulster - the province's next seven games are all either Champions Cup contests or inter-pro derbies in the PRO12 - while Joe Schmidt will be hoping the usually quick-healing Henderson can return in mid-January to ensure he is not undercooked for Ireland's Six Nations title defence, beginning on February 7 against Wales.

Nelson's foot injury is thought to be the most severe of the knocks picked up against Edinburgh.

In an impressive run of form this season, having begun at No.10 but seemingly won the full-back berth in recent weeks, a prolonged time on the treatment table is the last thing the promising Dungannon man needs.

Tuohy's ankle injury was not initially thought to be as serious while Kiss said that Cave's shoulder will need to be monitored.

Roger Wilson's availability for Toulouse will also be decided this week after the back-rower suffered a back spasm on Friday and had to be pulled from the starting line-up to face Edinburgh.

He was replaced by Nick Williams with Clive Ross coming onto the bench, the latter having perhaps his best performance in an Ulster shirt when asked to replace Henderson.

There was better news for Les Kiss over the weekend on Rob Herring, however, with the hooker suffering no ill-effects from the knock that had him hobbling badly in the game's final moments.

For the third week in a row, Ulster played in difficult conditions, something that may hold the squad in good stead this week if Toulouse arrive unprepared for a wet and wild Kingspan.

Playing into the wind in the second-half, the hosts controlled the game well in the final quarter to see out a win earned through a pair of early tries.

Indeed, even with Luke Marshall's late score disallowed, Ulster looked more like extending their lead than Edinburgh cutting into it as the game neared its conclusion thanks to a display of game management that pleased out-half Paddy Jackson.

"With the conditions it wasn't how we planned to play during the week, we didn't get through many of our patterns, but it's good to see that we can adapt," he said.

"I think in the first-half Edinburgh played very well into the wind and that's something we said at half-time.

"It's good to get the win but it was a struggle out there."

A 15th straight home game without defeat in the PRO12 established a new record for the province and, especially given the substantial injury blows, Jackson was pleased with the character displayed to maintain their impressive form at Kingspan.

Toulouse on Friday will be a different proposition, especially after Saracens took five Champions Cup points from the venue two weeks ago, but no PRO12 opponent has won in Belfast since Leinster did so in May 2014 against an Ulster side reduced to 14 men after an early red card for Tom Court.

"I a record we want to keep going," Jackson said.

"I think on nights like this it's where you need character.

"We would have been happier going in at half-time with another score as we knew how tough it would be to score in the second-half, which we didn't manage to do with the disallowed try.

"From our point of view we were relieved; we knew it was a struggle.

"But with guys that came on, Louis Ludik carrying really well and then the boys that came into the pack, it just made life so much easier for me.

"I was really proud of the lads."

Belfast Telegraph


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