Ulster were hit with another blow yesterday after Nick Williams was slapped with an eight-week suspension for striking an opponent in a Guinness PRO12 match.
The powerful number eight had a citing complaint against him proven yesterday and Williams is effectively out for the remainder of the season - he has the right of appeal.
Williams is supsended until September 1.
Williams received a yellow card following the early first-half incident at The Kingspan Stadium, Belfast last Friday night that resulted in Wales international Rhys Patchell being carried off and taken to hospital, where he was detained overnight.
On Sunday, Guinness PRO12 issued a citing complaint against Williams and he appeared before an independent PRO12 disciplinary panel yesterday.
In a statement, the PRO12 said: “The disciplinary committee, chaired by Roger Morris (Wales), along with Rhian Williams (Wales) and John Doubleday (England), having viewed footage of the incident and listened to representations made by and on behalf of the player, found that the incident was at the top end of the World Rugby sanctions for this type of offence, meriting a 16-week starting point.
“In the absence of any aggravating factors and in light of several mitigating factors, including the player’s exemplary previous playing record, the disciplinary committee applied an eight-week reduction from the entry point and suspended the player from playing for eight weeks.
“Taking into account the matches remaining this season, and two warm-up matches scheduled for the start of next season, Nick Williams is free to resume playing from Monday, 1 September 2015, and has the right of appeal.”
This is the fourth proven citing against Ulster this season and having enjoyed one of the best disciplinary records in the league the Irish Province now have one of the worst.
Ulster have won the Specsavers PRO12 fairplay award over the past three seasons - sharing it last year with Connacht - which carries a prize of £10,000 to be used in the club’s Academy.
But this year Ulster are bottom of the table which awards points for red and yellow cards received during the league’s regular season, plus proven citings - the team with the fewest number of points taking the prize at the PRO12’s annual awards night.
The loss of Williams is a blow to Ulster’s season run-in as they bid to secure a home semi-final in the PRO12 play-offs - with the final due to be played at The Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
He is a powerful presence on the pitch and one of the side’s key ball carriers.