It’s been a bloody period for Ulster, with four defeats in five games, who are now overloading their squad after last losing to Munster on New Year’s Day.
Aside from the scoreboard, more damage was also done when propsman Marty Moore, who was carted off the field about half an hour into the game against Munster, suffered what a medical report described as a “significant knee injury”.
Head coach Dan McFarland went even further, reckoning that Moore’s injury could end the season, which, if so, spells a massive setback for the Northern Province’s plans.
Fortunately for Ulster, Tom O’Toole is likely available again for Saturday’s non-negotiable win at Benetton Treviso after a stomach problem kept him out since the province kept a clean sheet at Sale in their European opener, the second in a worrying episode was three losses in a row in the last month.
Alongside O’Toole, it is also hoped that Rob Herring, Alan O’Connor and Ian Madigan – the latter has not played since suffering a knee injury against the Ospreys in early October – will be fit to travel to northern Italy as McFarland is also expected to that he gives his roster some rotation.
While the Ulster head coach was unusually blunt immediately after the 15-14 setback against Munster – Ben Healy had landed then added the two points to seal the game in his final moments – as he described the performance as ‘we were terrible’ described,” he said two days later, despite mounting criticism of his team’s recent performances.
“I believe in context, and the situation we’re in has context,” he said.
“Sometimes a bad swing can snowball and that can be triggered by a shocking second half from us against Leinster and I thought we were shocked that they were able to accumulate the points after we had done so well.
“It’s like a slap in the face and you come into next week and you get the situation with the trip to Sale and you’re playing against a side who honestly just took 40 points to the English champions [Leicester Tigers].
“And then we know what it’s like to have three halves where you say ‘oh.’ So it’s about not letting it get to you and believing in what you’re doing.
“If you believe in what you’re doing and you believe in what you have, you’ll get through this, work your way through it.
“I know we have the ingredients for top quality and potential championship wins… are we favorites or likely [favourites]no… but I know we have the potential to play at that level.
“At the moment we have slipped a bit for various reasons. We will return there.”