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Ulster sweat over fitness of key trio ahead of Leinster clash

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster will not know until later this week if their bruising Champions Cup encounters mean they are to be without a key trio of players for Saturday's sold-out inter-pro with Leinster at Kingspan Stadium (6.30pm kick-off) back in the Guinness PRO14.

While the return of skipper Rory Best in last weekend's loss to La Rochelle provided a considerable boost, the physical toll of that contest saw the side return to training yesterday with question marks over tight-head Wiehahn Herbst and half-back duo Christian Leali'ifano and John Cooney.

Battling a calf complaint, South African Herbst is seen as something of a long shot to feature in a set-piece battle that would see him go head-to-head with Lions loose-head Jack McGrath at the weekend.

With Ross Kane only working his way back at All-Ireland League and Ulster 'A' level over the last number of weeks after injuries of his own, Rodney Ah You could be left with a sizeable load to carry.

Scrum coach Aaron Dundon said: "Wiehahn Herbst came off with a tight calf so we'll see how he pulls through and Christian Leali'ifano is also a bit tight and sore. Obviously he was out of rugby for a while and he has been playing a lot of minutes lately, so there is a bit of fatigue there, a bit of tiredness too, so we're trying to manage him as best we can.

"We'll just see how he pulls through and John Cooney took a knock to his chest, so we're hoping to know later in the week with him too."

Loosehead prop Kyle McCall, who was named to be on the bench against La Rochelle but pulled out prior to kick-off, also remains a fitness doubt ahead of this week.

"He got injured in a scrummaging session on Thursday," added Dundon. "We didn't think it was too bad and were hoping he would be alright, so we brought him anyway.

"The doctor with us and physio got him as much treatment as they could, but he just felt at the end of the day he was not able to give 100%.

"We had Andy Warwick who was travelling anyway and we made a decision to play him.

"Hopefully Kyle will be alright this week, it's a seven to eight days sort of injury so hopefully he will pull through.

"We will not be able to make that decision either until later in the week."

There was better news on Louis Ludik and Jean Deysel, though, after both trained yesterday despite missing the trip to La Rochelle.

Meanwhile, Ulster's first ever PRO14 game in South Africa will now take place in more modest surroundings.

Originally scheduled for the 46,000-seater Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the province will instead play the Southern Kings at Wolfson Stadium.

With the hosts only drawing in the region of 4,000 fans so far, and Ulster set to be shorn of their Ireland internationals for the trip to Conference B's bottom side, a spectacle is not expected.

The draw for the Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup semi-finals was made at Kingspan Stadium yesterday with Ballymoney just one win away from a first ever final in the competition.

They will play City of Armagh II in the last four, with holders Ballynahinch II hosting the winner of Portadown v Malone II after their quarter-final was postponed thanks to an injury to the referee on Saturday.

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