Ulster need walking wounded to face Tigers
Defeat against Leicester could derail province’s Champions Cup campaign
Marty Moore hasn’t yet made a competitive appearance for Ulster. Photograph: Matthew Bunn/Inpho
Arriving at the opening round of the Heineken Champions Cup off the back of two Pro 14 defeats, and notably damaging ones at that to interprovincial rivals Munster and Connacht, has done little to suggest that Ulster are in a particularly good place as they prepare to host Leicester Tigers on Saturday.
No better moment then for Dan McFarland to be able to potentially deploy some of his heavy-hitters as Ulster bid to open their campaign with what looks a must-win if they are to remain competitive in Pool Four which, along with Geordan Murphy’s Tigers, also contains Racing 92 and the Scarlets.
Indeed, the northern province are hoping that new recruits Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and Will Addison will be available for selection after overcoming injuries which have kept Ireland international and former Leinster flanker Murphy (ankle) and fullback Addison (back) out since Ulster just about defeated Edinburgh in their second Pro14 game of the season at the start of last month.
It is also hoped that Craig Gilroy will be available to make the squad for Saturday’s clash.
As there are pressing needs to get experienced props out on the park, McFarland could also especially do with having Moore ready for action as the ex-Leinster prop, signed from Wasps for this season, has not yet featured since picking up a calf injury.
Ulster’s scrum creaked notably last Friday, when the northerners lost to Connacht for the first time in Belfast since 1960, and Ireland international Moore’s nous would be a considerable boost as although the Tigers are hardly in dazzling form just now, their scrum is well-noted for its effectiveness.
And Ulster are short on front row options with Eric O’Sullivan potentially out of contention due to a concussion picked up against Connacht and Rodney Ah You - who can play both sides -likely to receive a ban having been sent off when playing for Ulster ‘A’ against the Ospreys in last Friday’s Celtic Cup clash.
McFarland is certain to be missing Mattie Rea as the flanker is facing a disciplinary panel on Wednesday in Edinburgh for his red card for a dangerous tackle on Connacht’s Cian Kelleher and Ulster know they must also sort out a disciplinary record which has seen them collect yellow cards and worse in their last four games.
“There is no doubt, in our pool, people will look at us and given the form rightly expect us not to do well in the competition. It is up to us to show they are wrong,” said McFarland. “The main thing is that we focus on what we are doing and what we are trying to do in terms of getting better and that is a week to week process.”
Lose to the Tigers, though, and Ulster’s European season will look over before it ever really got going.