Monday 18 December 2017

Ulster keeping faith with bruised battlers

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin admitted that he will probably go with the same starting line-up for Saturday's return Heineken Cup clash with Bath at the Recreation Ground.

However, he will be hoping that injury concerns over back-row colossus Stephen Ferris, hooker Nigel Brady and flanker Chris Henry have cleared up in time after a contest the coach described as being "fought tooth and nail" last week, which saw Ulster hold on for a 22-18 victory in Pool 4.

Ferris has a calf strain and Brady picked up a dead leg, while Henry turned an ankle and was replaced by Willie Faloon in the second half -- McLaughlin's only substitution during the game at Ravenhill.

All three players hope to get back out onto the training field today to prepare for what McLaughlin believes is a must-win game if Ulster are to proceed to the knockout stages.

"As far as I'm concerned all players are available for selection," he said. "There were a lot of bumps and bruises after what was a physical game last week.

"I can't see the team that travels to Bath will change dramatically and in all probability will be the same as started last week.

"Everyone fought tooth and nail last week and whoever plays this week will be expected to do the same," said McLaughlin, who explained why more replacements were not used last week.

"The game was delicately poised and I thought the players on the pitch were doing a fantastic job. Our scrums and line-out were working very well, and a little change here and there might have disrupted things.

"Saturday is a huge game for us. With Aironi defeating Biarritz it has brought the pool back into everyone's grasp. It is now a case of winning our last three games," said McLaughlin, who, without Darren Cave -- who could be out until well into the new year with a hamstring injury -- has named a familiar 28-man squad.

"Last year we got our first win on English soil in Bath, but that is now history. It's another game for us and the importance of us moving forward in the competition is immense. We have to look at winning the group."

Ulster have now defeated Bath three times in the last two seasons and will go into the game with confidence, but McLaughlin will be wary of the firepower within the Premiership side.

"They are a strong side and they showed in the final stages of the game (at Ravenhill) they can be very dangerous when they play the ball wide. They could also have Luke Watson and Butch James returning which will strengthen their side even more.

"It is in our own hands, and we are determined to travel to Bath and win on Saturday."

Irish Independent

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