Piutau back to boost Ulster’s faltering challenge
Visit of Glasgow Warriors in Pro14 a must-win game for the struggling province
Ulster skills coach Niall Malone: “Off-field there is so much going on at Ulster at the minute; we try not to make it a distraction but it’s always there.” Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Inpho
With their season now threatening to tail-spin out of control, struggling Ulster will at least have Charles Piutau back from injury for Friday night’s penultimate home game of the regulation Pro14 season against Glasgow Warriors.
The 26-year-old picked up a rib injury in the win against Southern Kings at the start of the month and it is hoped his very presence will be of benefit to Ulster’s battered morale after last weekend’s embarrassing defeat at Scarlets when they lost 34-10 and produced a woeful second half during which the visitors conceded 31 points in just 37 minutes.
Piutau, who joins Bristol at the end of this campaign, will need to hit the ground running as Ulster come into this game off the back of two straight reverses which have seen Jono Gibbes’s side fall five behind Edinburgh who are third in Conference B and in a Pro14 playoff spot.
Just as concerning for Ulster is the fact that they are not even secure in fourth – which, as it stands, gives them a playoff shot at making next season’s Champions Cup – as Benetton Rugby are seven points back and have a more favourable-looking run-in.
With only the Ospreys to come to Belfast after Friday night’s meeting with Conference A leaders Glasgow – who lost at Munster last weekend with a squad heavily hit by Scotland’s Six Nations call – and Ulster already having a dire away record this season, the need to register a win this week is paramount with just five games to go.
However, they could go into this key clash even more depleted up front as the chances of backrower Jean Deysel being fit are in the balance after the South African’s recurring shoulder problem flared up again at Parc y Scarlets.
“They’ll [Glasgow] be licking their lips at the thought of playing us,” Ulster’s performance analyst and skills coach Niall Malone said of what is a must-win game for the struggling northern province.
“A bit like Scarlets they (Glasgow) have a whole team missing but Glasgow are still really strong. It’s certainly not going to be easy,” he said.
Ulster expect the Warriors may also have several Scotland releases to further strengthen their hand.
Addressing Saturday evening’s implosion at the Scarlets, Malone said it was difficult to explain just why Ulster were so badly mauled after establishing a 7-3 lead at half-time.
“The second half [at the Scarlets] was poor and probably the least effective half of rugby we’ve had this season. It was hard to fathom how we could be so confident in the first half and so blown away in the second.
“The usual excuse is valid as our injuries are crippling us and a lot of the guys we need on the pitch just aren’t available.
“Off-field there is so much going on at Ulster at the minute; we try not to make it a distraction but it’s always there,” he said, before sounding an optimistic note. “We’re still confident that we can get results and that we can still fight out the last important games of the season.”