Dan McFarland weighing up depleted Ulster squad options
Ulster coach Dan McFarland is hoping he can field a team for the final game of the season away to Edinburgh on Saturday evening in the Rainbow Cup.
The four players that tested positive for Covid-19 last week, forcing the cancellation of the Scarlets game, remain unavailable as they are self-isolating.
A further nine players have been identified as close contacts from the confirmed cases and are also currently self-isolating in accordance with Public Health guidelines.
McFarland has also an extensive injury list to contend with as John Cooney (neck), Jacob Stockdale (shoulder), Luke Marshall (knee), Ethan McIlroy (hip), Eric O’Sullivan (shoulder), Jack McGrath (hip) and Cormac Izuchukwu (knee) are all ruled out of the trip to Murrayfield.
“The guys who have tested positive won’t play this week, there’s a return to training protocol that goes along with testing positive,” explained McFarland.
“Close contacts will go through the same ten-day isolation that everyone goes through, that will finish before the Edinburgh game.
“Whether that means it’s practical for them to play is a decision we have to make. In some cases you might have no choice.
“The bottom line is we had fewer than 30 people training, so not two full teams.
“As long as we keep testing negative, we’ll have plenty of people to play the game at the weekend,” he added.
“If that’s not the case, then the guys on the medical board at the Pro14 get together and have a discussion on risk and we’re then told by the league whether the game is going to go ahead.
“They’ve got that process pretty much down pat at this stage. It’s a risk assessment.
“All we can do now is plug away and keep doing what we can do.”
Ulster are bottom of the Rainbow Cup table while Edinburgh are also out of contention to make the final as they are 10th after one win from three games, but despite the game having nothing at stake McFarland wants one last hit out for the season.
“There are a lot of guys looking to play this weekend that it means a lot to, it means a lot to everyone,” he added.
“These are professional rugby players and they want to show their wares, it could be (about) impressing the selection team here, it could be impressing the selection team with Ireland or simply wanting to get on the pitch and play.
“Playing rugby is awesome, it’s 15 years since I played and there isn’t a feeling like it.
“We’re out of the competition, Edinburgh are out of the competition.
“It’s not a competition we fell in love with. I’m more interested in seeing how well the guys on the field go.
“What kind of performance can they put in? What kind of a statement can they make going into the off-season?
“How close are we to playing the brand of rugby that we want to play?
“It was disappointing not playing against Scarlets because against Leinster, albeit we lost, we played some really good rugby.
“We were looking forward to backing that up but now we’ve had a little bit of a break, the team will change around a bit and guys will get the opportunity to put their hands up.”
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