Ferris injury woe hits Ulster hopes
THE problems mounted up for Ulster yesterday as first the in-form Stephen Ferris was forced out of today's crucial Heineken Cup clash with Bath, before the weather forced them to change their travel plans as Belfast International Airport was closed for a short while due to the weather.
It was hardly ideal preparation -- which involved flying out from Dublin Airport -- ahead of Ulster's biggest game in years, and what is a must-win, if they are to qualify from their pool for the first time since they won the competition in 1999.
In that light, the significance of Ferris' absence from the side can't be understated, particularly in the wake of his man-of-the-match performance last weekend, when Ulster recovered from a disastrous start to claim an invaluable home win.
Ferris' absence means the back-row is rejigged and Declan Kidney will be pleased to see Willie Faloon get the nod at openside. However, that means another promising Irish prospect -- Chris Henry -- misses out as Robbie Diack is at No 8 and Pedrie Wannenburg shifts to the blind-side.
Ian Humphreys was at fault for both of Bath's early tries last week but he continues at No 10 alongside Ruan Pienaar. Humphreys will go head-to-head with Springbok Butch James, who is back at fly-half for the first time since September after damaging a shoulder during the Tri Nations.
Both out-halves have the ability to steer their sides home given the time and space but Faloon is particularly adept at pressuring playmakers, though Ulster's stand-in skipper Johann Muller warned his team-mates of the credentials of his former international colleague.
"If last week's game was big, this one is enormous," said Muller. "Last week they started to throw the ball around in the last 15 minutes and had us stretched in defence. I expect them to do that from the word go, and with Butch back in the side, they will be really up for it. But we are ready for this game."
Along with the return of James, Danny Grewcock plays his 200th game for the club, with defence and skills coach Brad Davis in no doubt that his side have to win.
"Without a doubt if we want to go through to the next stage then we have to win this match. We will go out there and put in a performance that everyone can be proud of," Davis said.
"Looking back to Ravenhill what you saw from the squad was loads of character, despite us not playing the rugby we are capable of. If we didn't have that then we would have been turned over by Ulster by a much larger amount of points. The guys made over 170 tackles in the match and possession shows it was 70-30 against us and we were still in the game right at the end."
Ulster's away form has long been their Achilles heel and Brian McLaughlin's assertion that his side were ready to do "something special" ahead of the trip to Biarritz proved unfounded as the province produced another disappointing performance on the road in Europe.
"Every match from now on in the pool is a must-win game and it starts now," said Muller. "There were a lot of sore bodies after last week's game and there is no way we want that to go to waste. There were no celebrations as we knew there was still a job to do.
"The victory was one of the most enjoyable games I've played. Although it was very physical and quick, it was great fun.
"It was marvellous the way the players fought back. They could have so easily have thrown in the towel. But they showed when the chips are down, everyone stood up to be counted and to get that win was very satisfactory.
"It's going to need the same mental attitude to win again. The team knows how to succeed here as they showed last year, but that is now history."
Ulster beat Bath last year in January when Andrew Trimble crashed over for a superb try against 14-man Bath, who had Grewcock sent off for a stamp on Ferris for what was the province's first win on English soil.
But Bath were poor last weekend and still almost pipped Ulster, who will have to start delivering on their outlay sooner rather than later. A win here would be a huge step towards the last eight, but Bath don't cough up much at the Rec.
Ulster -- A D'Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar: T Court, N Brady, BJ Botha, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, R Diack. Reps: A Kyriacou, P McAllister, B Young, T Barker, C Henry, P Marshall, I Whitten, J Smith.
Bath -- J Cuthbert; M Carraro, O Barkley, S Hape, M Banahan; B James, M Claassens; D Flatman, L Mears, D Wilson; S Hooper, D Grewcock; A Beattie, L Moody, S Taylor. Reps: P Dixon, D Barnes, D Bell, I Lobbe, B Skirving, M McMillan, S Vesty, N Abendanon.
Bath v Ulster
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