Ulster coach, Neil Doak, spoke of his anxiety earlier this week ahead of Sunday’s Champions Cup Rugby pool three game against Scarlets, in having enough players to cover the 23 man match-day squad.
Had Luke Marshall not been declared fit, plus the return of Ruan Pienaar and Dan Tuohy from injury, Ulster would have had just 24 players from which to select their 23-man team for the trip to Wales.
It reflects just how serious the current injury situation is at the club and losing Stuart Olding, Wiehahn Herbst, Nick Williams and Stuart McCloskey, last week in the 24-9 bonus point win over Scarlets hurt the Province badly.
Each club can register 38 players for Europe at the start of the competition, with a minimum of 10 being front row players. Clubs can register two players during the pool stage of the competition, but one of those has to be a front row player and they have to both replace a player who was previously registered.
Clubs can also nominate front row players on a match-to-match basis, known as emergency front row players.
Two weeks ago, Ulster de-registered backrow, Chris Henry who is out long-term having undergone heart surgery and registered Dan Tuohy in his place.
Speaking to the News Letter and Ulster Saturday Night, Doak said: “It was really worrying at the start of the week. We already had so many players out.
“We would really have been battling had it not been for Luke, Ruan and Dan being in there.
“At one point we had 11 or 12 front line European players out. You have to name at least 10 front row players. When you do the maths it did leave us stretched.”
Clubs competing in Europe can name a minimum of 19 players on matchday, provided there is adequate front row cover.
“That could have been us,” smiled Doak, “but you cannot go into a big European game without a full bench.”
Doak named two replacement scrumhalves on the bench with Mike McComish getting a rare call to the senior squad this weekend, while prop Bronson Ross is yet to get his first cap in Europe.
Luke Marshall’s return was obviously more than timely, come in for the injured Olding and the relatively inexperienced Clive Ross starts in the backrow. The other enforced change saw Declan Fitzpatrick come in for Herbst.
Ulster go to Scarlets seeking another win to keep their hopes of making the knockout stages alive.