Last Friday’s 59-10 GUINNESS PRO14 win over the Southern Kings in Belfast came at quite a cost for Ulster, who picked up a number of injuries during the runaway bonus point victory.
Sean Reidy sustained a medial ligament knee injury that will keep him out of action for approximately six weeks, while Charles Piutau dislocated a rib cartilage and will be unavailable for selection for a number of weeks.
Young winger Robert Lyttle, who grabbed a brace of tries against the South African side, unfortunately suffered a hamstring injury of significance. He is expected to return to playing in four to six weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, experienced Ireland international Andrew Trimble (back) and Peter Nelson (hamstring) have returned to training and are in contention for this Friday’s round 15 clash with Edinburgh at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).
Ulster analyst and skills coach Niall Malone said: “Charles is not the most serious injury, Sean Reidy is the most serious. If you’re talking impact on the team then definitely losing Charles with only another seven games (left), 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.”
With his old Leicester Tigers team-mate Richard Cockerill now in charge of Edinburgh, Malone noted: “Up front Edinburgh look like an old-fashioned Munster team, they look tough and rugged and they didn’t use to look like that. That’s what characterises (Cockerill’s) personality and I think he’s had an instinct impact, making them more aggressive and more competitive.
“They’ve been more impressive than any time that I’ve been in this job. They had good fortune (against Leinster last week) but they’re the best Edinburgh team we’ve played in a few years.
“We try to look above us (in the Conference B table) rather than below but there’s only a three-point gap (between ourselves in third and Edinburgh in fourth) and we play them twice so the games are going to be significant.
“But the Scarlets play Leinster, then us. They’ve got a difficult run and if they were to lose in Dublin this weekend (and we win against Edinburgh) then we’d be going there (to Llanelli on February 24) knowing a win would take us ahead of them. Before last week, that didn’t look likely.
“We all have hard games to come, and we all play each other, so we know any win will take points off guys we’re vying with. There’s a lot still to play for.”