Ulster remained optimistic yesterday that three of their key players who were on an extensive injury list since the Heineken Cup quarter-final loss would be in the mix for selection this weekend ahead of the RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final against Leinster in Dublin.
Rory Best, Ruan Pienaar and Robbie Diack were all expected to be available for selection which would be a huge boost for Ulster as they face the defending champions in a repeat of last year’s Grand Final at the RDS on Saturday evening.
It has been thought Best (ankle) and Pienaar (shoulder) would be out for the remainder of the season.
But both had been making better than expected progress.
However, Ulster coach, Mark Anscombe, was being cautious yesterday about saying any of the three were definitely okay.
“We have to make sure we do right by the player as well. This is a big game and it would be great to have them available.
“But we have been in a position before where players have perhaps healed quicker than we thought and it has come back to bite us.
“Yes Rory and Ruan have certainly made good progress and are back in the training paddock,
“We are just making sure that we monitor their workload for the rest of the week and give them every chance to be fit and available.
“Are we optimistic. Yes,” added Anscombe.
Ulster rested most of the players likely to start this weekend for last Saturday’s final game of the regular season.
And the ‘shadow’ Ulster side which took to the field at Thomond Park produced a superb display and deservedly won 19-17, completing a rare league double over their provincial rivals.
“Throughout the season players get opportunities and it is important they take them,” said Anscombe.
“On this occasion players put their hands up and may have even played themselves into contention for this week.”
Ulster have lost to Leinster in a Heineken Cup Final and a PRO12 final, but they have won in Dublin last season and Anscombe knows that a big performance can see his team come out on the right side on Saturday night against the side who topped the standings at the end of the regular season.
“Leinster did the double over us this year during the league campaign, but we did the double over them last season.
“However, in the final we did not produce the performance we needed to get over the line again.
“There are no surprises this weekend for either team, both know exactly what the other can do.
“We have to focus on what we have to do to go to Dublin and win,” said Anscombe.
One of those aspects will be to ensure discipline is spot on.
“In the most recent game we gave away six penalties early on and they got into the lead. Then we lost a player to a red card.
“In the final last year, we gave away a few early penalties, they put us in the corner and got a try.
“Against Leinster you cannot afford to get behind it makes it extremely hard to get back.
“We need to make sure we are spot on when it comes to our discipline.”
Meanwhile, Anscombe confirmed yesterday that No 8 Nick Williams was out for the rest of the season after suffering medial ligament damage in the game against Munster.
“He will be out between six to eight weeks,” said the coach.