Muller may yet return for Ulster’s pool finale

Ulster’s Heineken Cup ambitions have been handed a timely boost with the news that captain Johann Muller may well be fit in time to feature in their round six tie against Castres in France.

The South African fractured an arm in the round three defeat of Northampton Saints at Franklin Gardens in December and the initial prognosis was of a return to action in early February.

“It’s touch and go,” said coach Mark Anscombe of the lock.

“He is nearly there, it is really right on the crescent. You have to look at the merits of that, weighing up the fact he has broken that arm twice. What would another three weeks give it as you look at the rest of the season?”

Anscombe’s decision will no doubt be influenced by events in Belfast this Friday. Claim five points against Glasgow Warriors and the province could travel to the continent a week later knowing a losing bonus point would suffice to finish top of pool four.

Ulster, already minus Muller, Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris, will also have to make do without centre Luke Marshall and full-back Adam D’Arcy for the visit of the Scottish side.

Both suffered injuries in last week’s PRO12 romp against Scarlets. Marshall is due to have surgery on a fractured finger and is out for between four to six weeks while D’Arcy fractured an ankle and will see a specialist later in the week.

Full-back Jared Payne missed that Scarlets game with a groin strain but may feature on Friday. So, too, lock Dan Tuohy who suffered a recurrence of a calf injury in that tie. Both are in the provisional squad.

Sears blasts ‘lack of respect’

By Linley MacKenzie

Connacht chief executive Tom Sears has hit out at those who have breached the confidentiality of the process of choosing a successor to Eric Elwood.

Sears, who heads a four-man interview committee charged with employing the new head coach, says it is important to “keep the integrity of the process intact”.

He said: “Right from the outset, we said we would respect the confidentiality of the process, and it’s unfortunate that other people haven’t.”

Speculation has been rife recently with Sean Holley admitting to turning down an offer, while Pat Lam has now emerged as the most likely candidate, following Alex King’s move from Clermont to Northampton.

“I am frustrated by people not respecting the confidentiality. I think it lacks respect and I think certain people have lacked respect for Connacht rugby in the way they have gone out in the media,” says Sears.

“If someone wants to go to the press bleating about why didn’t they get the job, why didn’t they get an interview, that’s their issue, but for the respect of the position and the integrity of the process, that’s what we are going to stick to. I am probably old fashioned, but I think any recruitment process would be completely confidential.”

Sears added: “We are at an advanced stage, we are not ruling anything out at the moment. We said we would make an appointment by the end of January and I am confident we will do that.”

Sears said the issue of the new coach had not hindered Connacht’s recruitment process.

“We are being aggressive and ambitious in the recruitment process both in Ireland and overseas. We are looking to retain our own players and bring top classes internationals in next season — including a replacement for Mike McCarthy.”

It has been tweeted that South African lock Andries Bekker has been approached by an Irish province, in addition to several French and English clubs, while No 8 George Naoupu, hooker Jason Harris-Wright, lock Mick Kearney and another talented homegrown player Eoin McKeon are expected to finalise their new contracts this week.

Naoupu and Kieran Marmion are two players who remain doubtful for Saturday’s Heineken Cup fixture against English champions Harlequins.

Naoupu was stretchered off in last weekend’s Pro 12 win over the Dragons with a neck injury, and although cleared by medics, Eric Elwood said the No 8 continues to be monitored ahead of the trip to The Stoop.

Scrum-half Marmion, who also suffered a dead leg, will be assessed today, while Dave McSharry and Michael Swift who missed training yesterday are expected to be fully fit. Flanker Johnny O’Connor is available for selection having missed last week’s fixture.

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