Ruan Pienaar and Charles Piutau set for Ulster return

A deflated Ulster side hope to have their two key men fit and ready for Saturday night’s must-win Champions Cup clash against a chastened Exeter Chiefs side at the Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss is confident both Ruan Pienaar (knee) and All Black Charles Piutau (concussion) will be available for the must-win clash while Lions and Ireland winger Tommy Bowe is back in the mix. Additionally, tight-head props Weihahn Herbst and Ricky Lutton, along with lock Dan Tuohy, are nearing full fitness again.

“The key for Ruan (who went off injured last week against Bordeaux) is that the scan showed only very minor damage to the various capsules around the knee and there was nothing structurally or of major concern. That is obviously a plus, although it was a jar to the knee which was worrying. He ran yesterday and trained part of the session and we will give him to the last minute to prove his fitness.

“As for Charles, he is finalising his protocols concerning concussion. But that is coming along in a very positive direction at present. So we are positive we will get Charles out on Saturday.

“Dan has worked with the team this week. He has done really well, having spent 10 months out, and with two matches under his belt, we will decide whether to play him for the Ulster A team again, or on the bench for us. Tommy has done really well. He has played over two games now, and he did really well for the A team last Friday,”

Kiss watched his side crash to defeat against Bordeaux, collapsing in the final 10 minutes. “It was a massive disappointment,” admitted Kiss, who expects to face a charged-up Exeter Chiefs side after their 35-8 defeat against Clermont in Sandy Park last week.

“Rob Baxter has said that his side will be coming to Belfast angry following that result, so we can expect a full assault and we need to be up to that challenge.”

Meanwhile, Ulster’s Louis Ludik, has agreed a three-year contract extension with Ulster which will keep him at Kingspan Stadium until 2020. Ludik, who turned 30 on Saturday, is out for four weeks following surgery. The versatile three-quarter qualifies to play for Ireland next summer having moved from French side Agen in 2014.

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