Injury toll a concern as Ulster’s fate hangs in the balance

Defeat by Toulouse in Champions Cup would all but see province out of knock-out stages



Les Kiss

remains stoic in the face of a spiralling injury list. The alternative offers nothing more productive than a headache.


Iain Henderson, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy and Peter Nelson joined fellow victims Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe in what has become a cluttered medical room.

On Friday night, Ulster host Toulouse at the Kingspan Stadium in a Champions Cup clash that they must win after losing to Saracens in their opening fixture – the game against Oyonnax on the first weekend of the tournament was postponed until January – on a particularly bleak night in Belfast.

Kiss must find a way to mould his depleted resources into a winning team.

“The weekend was just a little bit of bad luck really. Darren Cave went very early, Hendy which wasn’t a contact injury. Dan [Tuohy] and Pete [Nelson] . . . if you fall in the wrong place and someone lands on your foot, it’s just unlucky. I wouldn’t say it’s a trend or anything,” he said.

Kiss preferred to dwell on the way the players adapted, their work ethic and the character shown in forging a 14-7 victory over Edinburgh despite the physical carnage. Kiss also paid tribute to the manner in which halfbacks Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson managed the game and the "heavy lifting" in ball-carrying terms that the midfield axis of replacement Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall undertook.

Tougher challenge

Toulouse present a much tougher challenge. Third in the French Top 14, the depth available to coach

Ugo Mola

makes their selection a little more difficult to pin down.

“One of the worries is we don’t know what team they’re going to pick,” Kiss said. “When you look at the backrow – [Imanol] Harinordoquy, [Louis] Picamoles and Tala Grey – that seems obvious but they’ve got other options around the edges in that position. [In the] back three [behind the scrum], there’s options there too.

“Will they back themselves from anywhere on the pitch which they do a lot? Yet there are other games when they kick. They’re merging their game into an adaptive beast. I think that unpredictability, from selection to style, is a real danger.”

Kiss knows that anything other than an Ulster win will render their interest in the playoff stages of the tournament close to academic.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer