Ulster’s injury woes persist as pivotal Edinburgh clash looms
Charles Piutau leads growing casualty list after nine-try defeat of Southern Kings
Charles Piutau: dislocated rib cartilage looks certain to keep him out of until the end of next month at the earliest. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ulster might have reckoned that this week, in the wake of their hardly surprising thumping of the dreadful Southern Kings, things might have looked better for the third-placed side in Conference B.
Instead, they are now approaching this Friday’s pivotal home clash with Edinburgh – who are three points behind them – with a damaging-looking injury list and an unsettling story of another potential coaching departure.
The most high-profile casualty from their nine-try dismissal of the Kings is Piutau, whose dislocated rib cartilage looks certain to keep him out until the end of next month at the earliest.
Whether it proves to be a season-ender before Ulster’s marquee signing heads for Bristol at the end of this campaign remains to be seen, but performance analyst and skills coach Niall Malone reckons that the 26-year-old should return for the game with Cardiff Blues at the end of March.
“Charles is not the most serious injury, Sean Reidy is the most serious,” said Malone.
“If you’re talking impact on the team then definitely losing Charles with only another seven games, and to lose him for maybe half of those, is going to be a big space to fill.
“His dislocated rib could take up to four or five weeks or it could be considerably shorter.
“It’s a case of how long is a piece of string as he could be feeling fine next week or bad for another month,” Malone added.
Back-rower Reidy suffered a medial ligament knee injury against the Kings and will be missing for around six weeks, while winger Rob Lyttle is out for between four to six weeks due to a hamstring injury suffered when crossing for his second try against the South Africans.
As for speculation that head coach Jono Gibbes could be departing Ulster to hook up with Michael Cheika at the Wallabies, Malone reacted by hoping that the Kiwi, who is fronting the coaching ticket in the wake of Les Kiss’s abrupt departure, will be sticking around.
“I don’t know what’s happening there,” he said. “We’ve had a bit of change but hopefully we’ll have stability for a while.”
Meanwhile, Tommy Bowe is available for Friday night after damaging his sternum against Leinster in January while Andrew Trimble (back) and Peter Nelson (hamstring) are also fit again and, in the backrow, Jean Deysel is also up for selection as well.
Jared Payne (headaches), who is now involved as a defensive coach and has not played since last summer, remains sidelined while Robbie Diack (back) is also not available for Friday night.
Edinburgh, coached by Richard Cockerill, who was Malone’s former team-mate at Leicester Tigers, will come to the Kingspan off the back of last weekend’s victory over Leinster and will bring an entirely different challenge for Ulster in what has been a notably difficult season.