Injury worries for Ulster

Ulster Head Coach Dan McFarland. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Ulster Head Coach Dan McFarland. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Share this article

After the 63-26 mauling by the Cheetahs last weekend Ulster coach Dan McFarland is sweating on the fitness of a number of key players for the second match of the South African mini tour against the Southern Kings on Saturday.

Lions prop Jack McGrath was a late withdrawal from the match in Bloemfontein with a toe injury and is touch and go to make the game in Port Elizabeth.

Out-half Billy Burns faces a late fitness test after sitting out last week, while Springbok loose forward Marcell Coetzee will be monitored during to see if he is fit enough to make the match day squad.

Prop Wiehahn Herbst, who was added as cover at tight head, is unlikely to feature, and Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey may be flown out to South Africa to bolster a defence that leaked nine tries.

McFarland, though, has drawn a line in the sand over last Saturday.

“We have moved on quickly,” said McFarland.

“We came up against a team that was on a roll after the Currie Cup, winning a lot of games, winning the trophy and very cohesive.

“They are extremely dangerous at home, which they demonstrated last season.

“We went into that game knowing we would be challenged and if we weren’t able to control possession we knew we would be punished.

“In that first half we didn’t control the possession.

“Our set-piece didn’t function as we wanted it to, and as a consequence we weren’t able to exert pressure on the scoreboard, which was certainly there for us as we demonstrated any time that we did keep the ball.

“We were able to win penalties off them and kick to the corners or score the tries that we scored.”

McFarland found some solace in Ulster’s leaving Bloemfontein with a try scoring bonus point.

“We were here last year and scored in the last minute of the game so as difficult as playing against the Cheetahs at altitude is, and it was pretty warm, we were still playing hard at the end of the game,” he said.

“The second half became a bit of a basketball game we just knew that we needed four tries.

“We went out in that second half with the objective of scoring four tries and I suspect two or three of their tries were off the back of that.”

The Kings have lost both their opening games and are sixth in Conference B ahead of Benetton on points difference, but McFarland is expecting a tough battle.

“The Kings have got a new coaching team and playing a different style,” he said.

“Last year was very open and they took a lot of risk, this season they are far more risk averse. Their game is built around a very strong kicking game and maul from the lineout.

“They also have some extremely dangerous backs.

“For us it’s a case of understanding what they’re about and getting parts of the game that we didn’t get right last week, right this week. We understand certain things they do but it’s about focusing on ourselves and doing the things we do well correctly.”