Ulster’s opening round Champions Cup win over Bath has come at a cost with Jack McGrath, Sam Carter, and Rob Lyttle ruled out of Friday’s home clash against Clermont.
The loss of two key front-five forwards in McGrath (thumb) and Carter (shoulder) is a huge blow ahead of the visit of the French giants, who shrugged off some indifferent PRO14 form to thump Harlequins at the weekend.
Carter may be out for more than a few weeks after hobbling out in the early stages against Bath at The Rec. McGrath too went early, while flying wing Rob Lyttle — who scored a try on Saturday — is now also ruled out.
“We are waiting to see how long they are going to be out for but obviously it’s a setback for us,” said assistant coach Dwayne Peel.
“They won’t be available this week for sure.”
The 17-16 win over Bath has set up Friday’s first home game nicely at the Kingspan.
Ulster again survived on less possession, just as they did at Thomond Park a week earlier. It’s a situation head coach Dan McFarland says is “unsustainable”, as they look to take early control of their pool with a home win.
“To go away and win in our first game, well we were delighted with that,” said Peel.
“Obviously it’s a momentum-builder in this campaign if you string wins back-to-back and in this tournament, you know the nature of it, the breaks are less in terms of time especially this year because of the World Cup.”
Jacob Stockdale’s defensive capabilities have been questioned for a while now, so the delight he took in his last-ditch cover tackle to deny Bath a match-winning try, was understandable.
He smashed the ball into the ground NFL-style, as if he’d just scored a touchdown, and probably celebrated it more than some of his more famous tries.
“That moment was great for the team in general because it shows the fight we have and the dog we have within the team,” said Peel.
“I think it’s been evident for a while now that we are really fighting for each other.
“I don’t think we’re as cohesive as we have been, as cohesive as we could be, but we are fighting and working hard.
“We’ve had a lot of disruption with injuries and so on, but hopefully we can get a settled side and it’s a credit to the side how much there is within us.”
Ulster beat Racing at home last year and have beaten Clermont on both their previous visits to Belfast in this competition.
Despite being armed with that knowledge, Peel insists he expects the French outfit to travel well.
“They are a star-studded team and a big team of big men.
“I don’t think they’ll not travel well and I think historically they travel well in Europe.
“Hopefully it will be a sell-out here and we’ll climb into them.”
Garrett Fitzgerald Interview Part 2: Munster highs, lows and controversies. And the loss of Axel