Ulster are hoping to have Ireland internationals Craig Gilroy, Stuart Olding and Sean Reidy involved in Friday's match day squad for their Guinness Pro12 opener at home to the Dragons.
All three toured, and got game time, with Ireland in June's losing series to South Africa but Ulster director of Rugby Les Kiss is optimistic that the players will be released early to boost Ulster's already injury-hit squad.
Reidy's involvement will be particularly sought after in the wake of Ulster's current predicament at openside flanker as neither Chris Henry nor new signing Marcell Coetzee are fit, with the former still a few weeks away after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season, while the South African's medial collateral ligamen injury means he will not be seen until January.
“I’ve just got to finalise one conversation,” Kiss said yesterday, “and, you know, the process to negotiate this [the players’ release] has been ongoing for the last number of weeks.
“I would hope we have three available though whether they all start I’m not sure yet.”
A surprise call-up for the Ireland tour, Reidy won his first cap off the bench late on in the second Test defeat and his ability to cover openside flanker could see the 27-year-old involved from the off against the Dragons while Gilroy and Olding will bring extra cutting edge to Ulster’s already formidable resources in the backline.
Also on the injury front, Kiss was hopeful that Ruan Pienaar might have recovered from his elbow issue to be available for the first PRO12 game after missing out on last Friday’s friendly defeat of a pretty much full-strength Northampton Saints.
Louis Ludik, though, was a casualty from that Saints hit-out after suffering damage to his hand and, though Kiss was upbeat about the South African’s recovery, it is unclear if the utility back will be in the match-day squad for Friday.
Definitely missing for an unspecified period of time are tighthead props Wiehahn Herbst and Ricky Lutton as well as Tommy Bowe, Dan Tuohy, and utility back Peter Nelson.
“Last year when we played the Dragons I think we only beat them by an aggregate of about six points in our two games,” Kiss warned ahead of what would appear to be a fairly straightforward home opener.