Rory Best could miss all of Ulster's festive schedule
Les Kiss to start third choice hooker John Andrew during visit to Connacht
Rory Best: the Ulster and Ireland skipper has an ankle infection. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Rory Best could remain out of action for all three of Ulster’s festive interprovincials, and may not be feature again until the middle of next month when the Northern team returns to Champions Cup action.
The Ulster and Ireland skipper picked up an ankle infection which is thought to have begun in the wake of November’s autumn internationals, and has required the 35-year-old to attend hospital.
Best has featured only three times for the province this season – he earlier damaged a hamstring – which, with Rob Herring also out, means that Les Kiss will start third choice hooker John Andrew on Saturday in the return to Guinness Pro14 action at Connacht.
“It’s another couple of weeks [at least] before we see him,” said Ulster performance analyst Niall Malone. “It was caused by a stamp on the leg which led to a blood infection. That surprised us as Rory was training with us one day [he withdrew prior to Ulster’s first European game with Harlequins] and the next we were told he wouldn’t be available for a number of weeks.”
Ulster will also travel to the Sportsground without Charles Piutau (bruising to the lower leg) and Herring (concussion), while Chris Henry is a doubt due to a hamstring strain. All three picked up their knocks in last Friday night’s thumping 52-24 home win over Harlequins in the Champions Cup.
Also remaining on the sidelines due to injuries are Tommy Bowe (hamstring), Jean Deysel (neck), Luke Marshall (Achilles) and Jared Payne, who has still not featured since suffering headaches on last summer’s Lions tour.
While the concerns continue to grow over Ulster’s performances, most notably their inaccurate defensive and setpiece work, they will still be racking up in Connacht this weekend off the back of five games – four wins and a draw – without defeat.
And they return to PRO14 action on Saturday evening feeling reasonably upbeat after seeing off Harlequins in their back-to-back Champions Cup clashes and taking nine points from a possible 10 to stay alive in Europe.
Just how Kiss will manage his players over three derbies in 15 days – after Connacht they host Munster, before a five-day turnaround sees them meet Leinster at the RDS – is not so clear cut.
Against Connacht, Darren Cave is set to make his 200th Ulster appearance. This will be a rare outing for the centre this season, suggesting Kiss is considering serious rotation.