THE prospects of Nick Williams playing in Friday night’s opening Heineken Cup Pool Four match against Castres remained in serious doubt on Tuesday..
The Ulster No 8 suffered a rib injury in last week’s RaboDirect PRO12 win over Connacht in Belfast.
Although he was named in a provisional panel of 27 players yesterday to face the French side at Ravenhill in the Euro opener, Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe said a decision on his fitness would be made later in the week.
Anscombe told the News Letter on Tuesday: “It is 50-50. We are going to give him a couple of days and see how he turns up.”
With Sean Doyle suffering a displaced fracture of the Fibula while playing with Dungannon in the All Ireland League last Saturday - ruling him out for six weeks - and the confirmation that Robbie Diack is still not ready to come back, Ulster’s backrow situation looked a little grim on Monday morning.
There were a few anxious glances between the media on Tuesday when Ulster Rugby informed them that Stephen Ferris would not be attending the media session as planned due to the necessity of attending the medical team for physio.
However, it is understood there is no concern over Ferris’ fitness for Friday’s game.
Roger Wilson will make his first appearance of the season since returning to the club, but it will be with the Ulster Ravens in the British & Irish Cup opener against Bridgend.
Even given the situation with the backrow at present, it would have been a big ask to bring the No 8 into the panel not having had any game time since last May.
If Williams was ruled out, Ulster have two options to call upon, Mike McComish or Iain Henderson.
McComish could come in at seven and Chris Henry would move to No 8. But Henderson could come in at six with Ferris moving to No 8 and Henry remaining on the openside.
Henderson may be the less experienced of the two players in terms of senior rugby - but he has impressed at Irish Under-20s and was one of the star performers at the Junior World Cup in June.
He may only have three Ulster caps under his belt - the last of those coming against Cardiff Blues in September, but the level of his performance had impressed the management.
However, McComish has been involved in all five games this season, starting in one and coming off the bench in four.
It leaves Anscombe with a decision to make if Williams, who at this stage must be a serious doubt, is ruled out.
The coach also has a decision to make at scrumhalf with the return of South African Ruan Pienaar.
Pienaar impressed with the Springboks during the Rugby Championship series and is obviously game fit.
However, Paul Marshall has been going well for Ulster and probably should get the start.
Having a player of Pienaar’s calibre on the bench also means Anscombe covers both half back options, even though he has some on the pitch as well with Paddy Wallace certain to start in the centre again.
Meanwhile, Declan Fitzpatrick remains on the rehab bench having aggravated a medial ligament injury in training last week.
ULSTER PANEL -
FORWARDS: Rob Herring, Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Neil McComb, John Afoa, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Callum Black, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Mike McComish, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
BACKS: Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Michael Heaney, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne.