Amid the backdrop of last Saturday’s convincing defeat in Glasgow, not to mention a growing injury list, Ulster could really do with an uptick in fortunes as they prepare for this weekend’s visit of Edinburgh.
They may well once more face an issue at outhalf this Saturday after Billy Burns came off early at Scotstoun. With original replacement Jake Flannery having already pulled out in the warm-up, Nathan Doak had to see out most of the game at 10 after travelling as 24th man.
Rob Herring, David McCann, Nick Timoney, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Mike Lowry and Dave Ewers were all out of action last week and it is unclear how many, if any, Dan McFarland will have back in action for Ulster’s final URC game before the initial two-week break for Europe.
“It’s been a bit of a story of our year at the moment,” said assistant coach Dan Soper of the 33-20 loss to Glasgow. Though it was only the northern province’s second defeat of the season, it was also their heaviest thus far after six rounds in the league.
“[We’re] making errors unnecessarily when we don’t want them. We’re searching for an answer to that at the moment.”
On a more upbeat note, Stuart McCloskey should be available again and Steven Kitshoff seems certain to be making his first start.
“We’ve already seen that he’s a quality operator,” said Soper after the province’s marquee signing came off the bench in Glasgow.
“We’ll get Steven rolled out again this weekend and see what sort of impact he can make in front of his new home crowd.”
Something which did come out of Glasgow was John Cooney’s achievement of passing 1,000 points; the veteran scrum half, who scored 20 on the night, becoming only the second player at Ulster to do so, David Humphreys being the first.
“1,000 points, that’s serious going in seven seasons [since coming to Ulster],” said Soper who was name-checked by Cooney as being an influence in the aftermath of the 33-year-old’s achievement last weekend.
Soper added: “John is really fun to work with. He’s a magnificent goal-kicker.
“I know the things that are important to him that mean he kicks well so you keep an eye on those but really, he’s such an excellent kicker there isn’t a lot of technical stuff that goes on.
“He loves different challenges, thinking outside the box about how to practice his goal-kicking, creating scenarios, thinking about goal-kicking in a different way. I enjoy seeing him in such great form.”
Ulster will certainly need him firing again this weekend.