Jared Payne to miss Ulster’s must-win meeting with Munster
Les Kiss’s team are running out of chances to secure a place in Pro12 semi-finals
Jared Payne has endured an injury-plagued season. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Presseye/Inpho
With the pressure well and truly on fifth-placed Ulster to stay in the race for the Guinness Pro12 playoffs, the northern province will now be without Jared Payne this Saturday for their must-win meeting with Munster at Thomond Park.
The Ireland international, who has had an injury-disrupted season, suffered an ankle sprain during the first half of last Friday’s costly 24-24 home draw with Cardiff Blues and though he felt good enough to take the field after half-time, the Kiwi quickly left the action after play resumed.
It is hoped that Payne, who was at fullback last Friday, will be fit in a fortnight’s time for Ulster’s game at the Ospreys.
“It was weird, he felt he could give it a go [after half-time] and ran the ball a few times,” said Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss.
“It is not anything major and hopefully he’ll be out for two weeks max.”
On a more positive note, flanker Chris Henry will be fit for the trip to second-placed Munster after sitting out last week due to a shoulder/neck issue, and Ulster will certainly need to deploy the Ireland international’s work-rate at the breakdown as they head south to Limerick in search of a rare win to keep their season alive.
Ulster last won in Thomond Park in May 2014 on the final weekend of the regulation season, when both sides were already assured of a semi-final place, and this time their best hope may lie in the fact that their backs are against the wall, allied to Munster being without some big names and potentially being distracted by next week’s European semi-final with Saracens.
For Andrew Trimble, another Ulsterman who has endured an injury-hit season, it’s all about fronting up at one of the hardest places to dig out a win. The wingers knows that Ulster must do everything they can to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals with just a trip to the Ospreys and then a home game to leaders Leinster remaining.
And with the Ospreys and Scarlets, in third and fourth respectively, expected to win their derbies on Saturday, Ulster – on equal points with the Scarlets who are ahead of the province thanks to one more win – simply have no wriggle room left.
“I’ve been down to Thomond Park I don’t know how many times and we’ve only ever got a small bit of joy,” Trimble said.
“You have to play out of your skin there to get a win.
“It’s three cup finals from here on and it’s the last chance for us,” added the 32-year-old who returned to action last Friday after last month’s hand injury.
“We have to show how good we can be because we still believe it.
“A lot of people don’t believe it but that’s because we haven’t proved it,” he added even though Ulster are unbeaten in their last seven games.
Any slip-ups now and Kiss will have a horrible statistic to absorb: Ulster’s first failure to secure knockout rugby since 2010.