Ulster skipper, Muller, back for crucial period

Ulster captain, Johann Muller
Ulster captain, Johann Muller

December was always going to be a crucial month even before the fixtures for both the PRO12 and Heineken Cup were confirmed.

Traditionally there are usually the two back-to-back game in Europe which can make or break the campaign even with two round still remaining.

Then there are the festive fixtures against rival Provinces, Leinster and Munster.

As it stands going into the final month of the year, Ulster are facing a massive month, probably bigger than could have been anticipated.

On Sunday, the unbeaten RaboDirect PRO12 leaders travel to Llanelli to take on second placed Scarlets, with the opportunity to really open up a sizeable gap at the top of the table.

Ulster are currently six points clear at the top of the table having survived two games in Italy where they probably should have been on the losing end of 27-25 and 16-15 scorelines.

But the weakened teams which played first against Zebre and then Benetton Treviso, produced the goods and those two away victories could prove vital in the final shakedown.

Depleted by injuries and international call-ups, Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, was able to get a really good look at some of the young talent that currently exists in the Province and while both performances were poor by any standard, the fact both games were won speaks volumes for the character that exists within the side.

However, Anscombe will be relieved to at least have some of his front line players returning this week and just in time before the two big Heineken Cup games against Northampton Saints.

Ulster skipper, Johann Muller, is set to return to the matchday panel for Sunday’s trip to Llanelli - the Welsh side again likely to missing several players due to Wales playing Australia.

Muller damaged a hand almost six weeks ago and his return this weekend is timely given that second rows are not in abundance and Robbie Diack has had to switch from his traditional backrow spot to the engine room.

Muller would be expected to get game time off the bench against Scarlets on Sunday and then lead the team out away to Northampton Saints on Friday, December 7.

Rory Best could also make a surprise return this weekend, although it may be more likely to expect him back in time for the Saints away game.

Best was giving nothing away yesterday, but did hope to be back within the next fortnight.

He said: “The injury is coming on well but it is just like any other ligament it just needs time and a bit of rest and it has got that.

“I have trained pretty hard over the last two weeks and over the next two weeks it should come on a lot and hopefully I’ll be back playing within the next two weeks.”

Reflecting he added: “That night when I first hurt it at the Dragons when it is an injury where you have had a previous injury you do get a little concerned.

“The good thing about this is we have done all the x-rays and MRI’s and the bone graft I had in 2009 looks prefect and the surgeon is very happy with that so that is reassuring and a bit of a positive for me from that point of view.”

In terms of the others on the injury list, Lewis Stevenson is not likely to return for another fortnight and Stephen Ferris is still rehabing with an ankle injury and it is yet to be seen if he will see any action in December.

Meanwhile, although all the players at the Irish camp were returned to their Province, Ulster will have to manage the game time.

It would be expected that new Irish star, Craig Gilroy and Chris Henry, who had an impressive Guinness Test series will be rested for this weekend.