Ulster hope to have Coetzee back for clash with Southern Kings
Third-placed Ulster could also have Cooney back in action, while Rob Herring is also available
Ulster’s Iain Henderson: the British and Irish Lion is unlikely to play against the Kings. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
If passed fit this will be the 27-year-old Springbok’s first game-time since January, when a suspected hamstring issue forced his early withdrawal from action in the Champions Cup victory at Leicester Tigers.
The timing of the powerhouse backrower’s expected return could hardly be better for Ulster the week before they travel south to take on reigning champions Leinster in the Champions Cup quarter-final in front of a soldout Aviva Stadium.
Coetzee’s presence should also be of considerable benefit in helping the northern province see off the Kings – who are bottom of Conference B – to rack up a fourth straight Pro14 victory, and further reinforce their bid to secure a playoff place.
The prognosis is not so clear for Iain Henderson, who was forced to pull out of Ireland’s preparations for last weekend’s Six Nations finale in Wales due to a knee ligament issue which he shipped in the previous game against France. It would appear that the British and Irish Lion will play no part in Saturday’s game against the Kings.
The same could apply to Henderson’s fellow Ireland squad member Will Addison, who, as with Coetzee, has not featured for the province since the narrow win at Welford Road back in January.
Ulster – currently third in the Pro14 table and in position to nail a playoff place – could also have John Cooney, who was left out of Ireland’s match-day 23 for last weekend’s defeat in Cardiff, back in action, while Rob Herring is also available.
Luke Marshall, who was added to Ulster’s European squad last week and has been out of action since last May with a serious knee injury, is still believed to be a few weeks short of making his comeback.
With three Pro14 regulation games to go after Saturday’s encounter with the Kings, and a run-in which includes challenging away games at Glasgow and Edinburgh, before hosting already crowned Conference B winners Leinster, the northern province need to continue registering wins in what is still a congested table regarding securing a place in the playoffs.
“We have put ourselves into a good position now, so we can’t be flaky about this,” said scrum coach Aaron Dundon, who departs the Kingspan at season’s end. “We want to get as many points as we can against the Kings and finish the season strong in the Pro14 because that’s a competition we want to do really well in.”
And hinting at the enormity of Saturday week’s European task in taking on Leinster in Dublin, Dundon revealed that work has already been under way regarding taking on the province where he formally played.
“The coaching staff have done a bit of work already in regards to looking at Leinster, but we want to go out and produce a big performance this week and get a win [against the Kings] as it is so important for us in the position we are in in the league.
“We have a lot of league games coming up, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Leinster, that we want to really win that second spot,” said the former Grenoble forwards coach of Ulster’s ambition to topple Benetton Rugby to finish runners-up to Leinster.
And Dundon, who has not revealed where he is going after leaving Ulster, also heaped praise on the emergence of loosehead prop Eric O’Sullivan, who has been a revelation in his breakthrough season.
“Eric has impressed me and developed a lot quicker than I imagined, but that is down to him. He is such a hard worker. You see it the way he plays, the Scarlets game in the Champions’ Cup as a loosehead prop, he made 22 tackles.”