Veteran Ian Humphreys has been rugby’s forgotten man recently, but it doesn’t stop the fly-half having goals as he looks ahead to Ulster’s trip to Oyonnax this weekend.
The 33-year-old Humphreys looks set for only his second start this season as Ireland’s Paddy Jackson rests up under the IRFU player management scheme.
It has been a frustrating period for Humphreys, who returned to Ulster from London Irish last season, but has only seen fleeting glimpses of a number 10 jersey.
“It’s one of those things and I’m not going to say it’s been easy,” said Humphreys about spending most of his time on the bench. “But I still want to be part of it so I’m more than willing to do what the coaches want. It never gets any easier and it’s still frustrating. Hopefully I’ll get game-time and, at my age, it will be nice to get out and run around a bit.”
Following this Sunday’s rescheduled game away to Oyonnax, Ulster then travel to Saracens before the return date in Belfast with the French side who are more interested in keeping their Top 14 status and the finance that accumulates.
Humphreys is confident that Ulster, buoyed by back-to-back wins over four-time champions Toulouse, can still qualify for the knock-out stages, despite an opening game mauling by Saracens.
Ulster sit on nine points, 10 adrift of the English side, who are runaway Pool 1 leaders.
“Last year, making it to 17 points actually qualified us for the quarter-final,” said Humphreys. “We know that two sets of four points will hopefully get us over the line. If we go over there and think this is bonus point followed by bonus point, we know we’ll come unstuck.
“I think it’s been more a case of making sure that we don’t overreact to the defeat against Munster. We didn’t think things were perfect when we were winning and we don’t think things are horrendous now that we’ve lost.
“The key thing is that we don’t go back into our shells and that we keep trying to play.”
Ulster are waiting on the fitness of several players as a gruelling schedule continues to take its toll. Tight-head prop Wiehahn Herbst may not be fit for the trip due to a leg injury while full-back Louis Ludik and wing Rory Scholes are also doubtful.
The news that Ireland centre Jared Payne is nearing full fitness again, and is likely to make a return either against Saracens or in the return game against Oyonnax, is a big boost. The same applies to Darren Cave who has been out for three weeks with a shoulder injury.
Craig Gilroy is understood to have recovered from a facial injury and is set to be involved in the Ulster line-up, which will be announced today.
Stuart Olding, who has been out since last March with a second major knee reconstruction in two years, is also close to returning.
Sunday’s game will be the first meeting between the clubs while Oyonnax will also be facing Irish opposition for the first time.
This will mark the second time Ulster have played French opposition in three consecutive European Cup fixtures, having met clubs from France in each of their knockout games on the way to winning the title in 1999.
Oyonnax lost their first home game of this season’s competition against Saracens but have been beaten just once in their six Challenge Cup home fixtures (W4, D1).
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