Leinster v Ulster: Dan McFarland weighing up his options as Ulster injuries mount ahead of European Champions Cup tie
Head coach Dan McFarland remained upbeat as his injury woes grew ahead of this Saturday’s huge European Champions Cup quarter-final clash against defending champions Leinster.
The sight of fullback Louis Ludik being helped off by the medical team just nine minutes into the Guinness PRO14 game against Southern Kings on Saturday night was not what the head coach needed.
Nor did an injury to Darren Cave aid the situation, although that did not appear as serious as Ludik’s left leg injury.
With Irish international Will Addison struggling with a back injury and still some doubt over British Lion lock Iain Henderson, McFarland will have to weigh up his options once he gets a proper update from the medical team on Monday.
Immediately after the 33-19 bonus point win over the Kings, McFarland said it was too early to assess the fresh injuries.
But on Ludik he said: “You saw what I saw and it did not look good.”
With Ludik, Addison and Cave all a doubt and Luke Marshall still not fully fit yet following an ACL injury, it could leave Ulster struggling in the outside centre role.
Marshall was added to the European roster last week, along with James Hume, but the latter is also ruled out after breaking his ankle in training last week.
McFarland joked that defence coach Jared Payne was perhaps wondering should he turn out again - ‘but he has been told no, he has had his chance’.
McFarland added: “We will have to assess the injuries and see how Louis is and how Darren is. Obviously James is out. We’ll have a look at Lukey and see how he’s going on.
In respect of Addison, McFarland said: “It’s a back injury so it’s not like a ACL or an MCL or a shoulder reconstruction where you have parameters.
“This is much more complicated and a lot of them are very individual in the way you deal with them, so the management of that is difficult.
“But he is a really good professional and he has a good mindset and as frustrating as it is with a week-by-week injury, he’s got his head down working hard.”
On the plus side, number eight Marcell Coetzee returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the last European Cup game against Leicester Tigers.
“It was good to have him back and he went well tonight,” said the Ulster boss.
“Marcell’s been a strong performer for us this year and it was disappointing for him and us that he hasn’t been able to play this last while but it was great to see him back out there and at his bullish self.”
McFarland said getting the bonus point win over Southern Kings had put them in the position they wanted to be in the PRO14.
“Yes we still have three massive games to come - and they are not easy games against Glasgow, Edinburgh and the best team in Europe on the last day of the (regular) season.
“But we have put ourselves in the position we wanted to be in at the end of the Six Nations period.
“Now we turn our attention to Europe. We have taken it game by game all season and we can now put our full focus into the task ahead on Saturday when we come back in.”
While Leinster will be strong favourites, Ulster have put together a great run of form with 21 points from their last five games.
“We will have to be at our very best (when we go to Dublin),” said McFarland.
“We have put in some good performances in Europe already, but recently we have not strung together a really good 80 minutes yet.
“In order to win next week we will. There is literally no doubt about that.
“We will have to be at our best,” added McFarland.