Henderson and Rea injuries leave Ulster worryingly short of secondrow cover
Dan McFarland has key players Stockdale, Best and Addison available again for Munster
Ulster Coach Dan McFarland during a press conference ahead of the province’s Pro14 game against Munster at the Kingspan Stadium on Friday. Photograph: Pacemaker Press
Though Ulster at least enter the usually tricky festive period of interprovincials with notable European momentum behind them, they are looking worryingly short of secondrow cover ahead of Friday’s return to Pro14 action against Munster in Belfast.
Having already lost Iain Henderson for up to 10 weeks – he underwent thumb surgery for damaged ligaments on Monday – the northern province also have Matty Rea sidelined for a similar length of time with a fractured thumb which has also resulted in him going under the knife.
Rea, who normally features in the backrow, was providing cover at lock due to both Alan O’Connor and loan-deal signing Ian Nagle being out of action with the former still ruled out for another few weeks and only the latter, potentially, being able to tog out on Friday.
As it currently stands, Ulster’s only fit frontline secondrow is Kieran Treadwell and should Nagle make the cut for Munster, bench cover will presumably be provided by Academy player Matthew Dalton who has just resumed playing club rugby though both flankers Clive Ross and Greg Jones can also be used in the engine room.
Though Henderson would have been unlikely to feature other than in the first-up interpro – Ulster’s only home game from their three Pro14 derby clashes, the others being away to Connacht on December 28th and Conference B leaders Leinster on January 5th – the shortage of fit locks is anything but ideal for Dan McFarland.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things,” said McFarland. “It is really disappointing for Iain Henderson obviously, he is off the back of playing some good rugby there and Matty Rea as well. He (Rea) is out for what would have been a pretty big period for him. These things happen so you just have to get on with it,” added McFarland of Ulster’s lock situation.
With the visits to Galway – Connacht have already turned Ulster over in Belfast – and the RDS looking very challenging, it is imperative that McFarland keeps the Pro14 campaign ticking along with the right result over Munster and especially so after the record 64-7 tanking Johann Van Graan’s squad inflicted on the northern province back in September.
“It hurt us when we were down there at Thomond Park,” said McFarland. “That was a difficult night. There were a few young fellas playing there who didn’t get the best experience of playing for their province. We want to put out a performance this Friday night that will demonstrate what an interprovincial game really means to us.”
Ulster may well have key players Jacob Stockdale, Rory Best and Will Addison available again as they prepare for Munster ahead of what is likely to be considerable rotation for the trips to Galway and the RDS before they turn their attentions again to Europe and a crunch home meeting with Pool Four leaders Racing 92.