Ulster are still awaiting definitive news on the prospect of travelling to Leicester’s Welford Road tomorrow afternoon without their key half-back partnership of Billy Burns and John Cooney. Ulster are chasing a place in the Heineken Champions Cup knock-out stages and the loss of the pair could be devastating.
Needing a victory to at least ensure they squeeze into the last eight as one of three best runners-up, the frantic work of senior physioherapist Chris McNicholl in the medical room could prove vital. Cooney was a late withdrawal last week after failing a fitness test on a back spasm, while Burns picked up a leg injury midway through the first half of that 26-22 win over Racing in Belfast last week.
That victory cut Racing’s place at the top of Pool 4 to three points, though they are expected to pick up a win at home in Paris tomorrow when Scarlets come calling.
Ulster’s former international flanker Sean Reidy is certainly showing some of his stubborn New Zealand roots after he turned in a superb 80 minutes last week.
However, he is well aware that Ulster were in a similar position last year, but crashed in the final game in England where they went down heavily to Wasps.
“We took it a bit for granted last time we were in Europe,” said Auckland-born Reidy, who has two caps for Ireland. “So, this week, that’s not going to happen. We’re going to go into this game all guns blazing and try and put in a good, solid performance for our fans and for each other.
“Obviously, there have been a lot of people coming and going from last season, but I think we’re heading in the right direction, especially last weekend, when times were tough and Racing were really attacking well and we came together and got over the line.
“I think from a personal point of view that I knew we’d be there all along. I backed the squad and knew that if we got things right we’d definitely be there at the end of the season.
“We’ve just put ourselves in a position now that we can go over there and really confirm that.”
Reidy, 29, has never played at Welford Road, but knows that they will be a very tough nut to crack in front of their own fans.
“They have a strong history and, over the past 10 or 15 years, they were at the forefront of the professional era, winning a lot of titles, but Ulster have gone away from home in Europe and put in big performances and we know that if we go over there and play well as a team, as a collective, we’ll be in a good place,” said Reidy whose only piece of silverware was winning New Zealand domestic rugby’s Ranfurly Shield with Counties Manukau six years ago.
Ulster may not win silverware this season, but to reach the last eight will be as good as, and a big sign of progress.