Munster’s PRO12 ambitions will survive last night’s defeat but more damaging may be the casualty list arising from it which looks like depriving coach Rob Penney of three key men for next week’s Heineken Cup trip to Gloucester.
Donncha O’Callaghan, Damien Varley and Cathal Sheridan all vacated the pitch during the first-half in Ravenhill with the first two picking up knee injuries and the scrum-half a foot problem.
Penney revealed none of the trio “look good” for the trip to England next Saturday and the worry is that the lock, hooker and scrum-half are all operating in areas where the province is already light on bodies right now.
Luckily, the signs are that Conor Murray should make it back from the knee injury picked up against Perpignan in Limerick in early December while another front row operator will need to be added to the European roster should Varley not make it.
That is likely to be young Niall Scannell.
Not great timing, all told.
“It’s never great timing,” said Penney, “so they are things we will be discussing the next 48 hours or so.”
The Kiwi was more reassuring as to the well-being of Ian Keatley who had been inactive of late with groin issues which the coach claimed “restricted” his ten’s kicking last night. JJ Hanrahan’s latest fitness update was less clear, however.
Keatley should be okay for Gloucester for a game where Penney will hope to see more of the maul and set piece that worked so well here but less of the errors which cost them what would have been a rare victory in Belfast.
“I’m really disappointed,” he replied when asked if his glass was half-full or empty after an awful first-half and a storming second.
“The guys did a great job to work their way back to four points down when we weren’t kicking many goals. I’m disappointed but pleased with how we responded.
“This team has a lot of fortitude. Ulster were desperate for the win here and to be in there for so long after leaving 12-15 points behind was good. Pienaar was the difference at the end of the day,” added Penney.
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