Ulster sweat over injury doubt Jacob Stockdale for PRO14 quarter-final against Connacht
Jacob Stockdale remains a doubt for Ulster's Guinness PRO14 quarter-final with Connacht next weekend.
The province will return to domestic knockout rugby after a two-year absence on May 4 as they host their western neighbours, but 11 days out from the contest their star wing is still struggling with a hamstring injury sustained against Edinburgh two weeks ago.
The 23-year-old Irish international missed the start of the season with a similar problem and, with the World Cup only months away, there will likely be no chances taken given the risk of re-aggravating what is presently viewed as only a minor strain.
Dan McFarland yesterday confirmed: "There are definitely fears for the Connacht game.
"As we said on the last injury report, we're going to keep monitoring him week on week."
Like Stockdale, retiring skipper Rory Best will play no part against Leinster this Saturday (5.15pm kick-off) in a game that has no bearing on the final league standings and will likely feature two unfamiliar sides.
But Best could yet get a Kingspan Stadium farewell with his ankle injury not ruling him out of the quarter-final.
"I'm really hoping that he'll be able to do that and that's just on a personal level, not even on a team level," added McFarland.
"I really hope that he's able to lead the team out at Kingspan one last time."
With Best stepping away from the game after leading Ireland at the World Cup, McFarland admitted he'd have loved to have the 36-year-old around for one more season at club level but respects his decision to go out at the top.
"I don't think there are many coaches around who if asked 'Do you want Rory Best to be part of your squad?' would say 'No, I don't want him'. But that's just not happening, is it?
"You have to respect the fact that Rory is coming to a crescendo in his career with the World Cup and captaincy of Ireland.
"He understands where he is as a player now. He's 36-years-old and speaking to him and reading what he's said, he also understands that it's not going to go on forever.
"He understands that he wants to go out where he knows he is playing his best rugby. That's his decision."
McFarland added: “When he told me, he said, ‘I want to go out on my own terms’. I admire that. I can only imagine how tough that decision was. When I made that decision, it wasn’t mine.
“(Then Connacht coach) Michael Bradley called me aside in a corridor and told me it was probably time to retire. He was right, don’t get me wrong — it was time.
“But Rory, that’s a big decision for him. I admire him for it. Legend is used: an Ulster legend, an Ireland legend. I’m not a big one for hyperbole but that’s appropriate in this case.”
McFarland is expected to name a much-changed team for the visit of Leinster with Darren Cave, who will also retire at season’s end, in line for the captaincy on Saturday night.
In the final round of PRO14 action, there is plenty to be played for elsewhere but Ulster and Leinster are locked in second and first respectively.
As such, a number of senior players for both sides could get the weekend off.
Marcus Rea could debut while David Busby is also in line to be among those set to feature under McFarland for the first time.
“We’ve used 47 players in the PRO14 this year,” the coach said. “That will probably go up over 50 this weekend.”