Ulster sweat over star man Ferris for crunch Saints tie
Published 30/03/2011 | 05:00
Ireland and Lions star Stephen Ferris is facing a race against time to be fit for Ulster's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Northampton on Sunday week after suffering a 'hiccup' in his battle to overcome a knee problem.
While the flanker has not been officially ruled out of the game -- which has been switched from Franklin's Gardens to Milton Keynes -- Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin confirmed that he suffered a setback in training over the weekend and did not name him in his 35-strong squad for Friday's Magners League clash with the Scarlets in Ravenhill.
Ferris had been pencilled in to play some part this weekend ahead of what is expected to be a hugely physical encounter against the English side.
"Stephen was progressing well and doing a lot of running, but last Sunday there was a bit of a hiccup and he felt a lot of pain on Monday," said McLaughlin. "He was seen by a specialist and we will know more later this week."
It is believed that Ferris will go into hospital on Friday and have the knee flushed out in order to ascertain what is causing the discomfort.
Ferris picked up the injury in the January's Heineken Cup win over Aironi and missed Ireland's entire Six Nations campaign.
There is some good news for Ulster, as prop BJ Botha is expected to feature off the bench, while Ian Humphreys has also recovered from a hamstring injury. Andrew Trimble (quad) is included in the extended squad, with Rory Best expected to lead the side.
McLaughlin, who has added Conor Gaston, Craig Gilroy and Adam Macklin to his European roster, is hoping that Ulster can lay down a marker ahead of a number of vital weekends.
"We have scraped home in three games, and last week, while our defence was very good, our attacking platform let us down," said McLaughlin.
"We have worked very hard at that. Scarlets are a good team and they see this game as a cup final. Win this and they are still in the hunt, so we will have to front up and deliver."
Ulster are in third spot, level on points with second-placed Leinster and fourth-placed Ospreys, and five points ahead of fifth-placed Cardiff Blues.
Ulster -- (Squad v Scarlets) -- Forwards: J Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, BJ Botha, T Court, P McAllister, B Young, R Best (capt), N Brady, A Kyriacou, R Caldwell, D Tuohy, J Muller, T Barker, P Wannenburg, TJ Anderson, W Faloon, C Henry, R Diack. Backs: R Pienaar, P Marshall, N O'Connor, I Whitten, N Spence, P Wallace, D Cave, M McCrea, A Trimble, S Danielli, T Seymour, C Gilroy, C Gaston, D McIlwaine, J Smith, A D'Arcy, I Humphreys.