TOMMY BOWE IS in line for his first start for Ulster in almost four months as his comeback from a knee injury continues.
The winger featured for 20 minutes, off the bench, in the Heineken Cup quarter final defeat to Saracens at the weekend but is about to step up his quest to gain full match fitness.
Bowe was named in the extended 25-man Ulster squad, today, to face the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill on Friday.
He spoke to the media at Newforge this morning and declared his intentions to help Ulster towards the Pro12 title. A win last time out, against Leinster, has virtually guaranteed Ulster a playoff spot.
With Dragons and Blues coming up at home in two of their last three games [the other is Connacht away on 19 April], top spot and a home draw for the semi-finals is a distinct possibility.
Bowe played for the British & Irish Lions in 2009 and will be desperately hoping to stay fit and show the try-scoring form he is capable to interest Lions coach Warren Gatland before his 30 April squad announcement.
Marshall’s season in doubt
Notable absentees in the Ulster squad are captain Johann Muller, who suffered a bicep tear against Sarries, outhalf Paddy Jackson, John Afoa, Andrew Trimble and Luke Marshall.
Marshall, who made his Test debut in February, has suffered game-ending concussions in his past three matches. He was helped off the pitch at Twickenham last Saturday and went for a scan on Monday.
While Ulster have yet to officially rule the centre out for the season, return-to-play protocols would rule him out of action for at least three weeks, especially if any scan revealed a serious concussion.
An Ulster spokesman said, “Muller is out for three weeks. Marshall has seen a specialist this week and will see another second specialist late this week or early next week.”
Muller, meanwhile, released a statement on the club website to thank the thousands of supporters that travelled over to London to watch the harrowing defeat to Saracens. He commented:
While we are disappointed that we didn’t win the Heineken Cup Quarter-Final, we have still got plenty to play for. We are right up there in the PRO12 and hopefully we can get some silverware at the end of the season.”
The South African lock, it is hoped, will return for the final league game of the season, before the playoffs, against Cardiff Blues. There was better news for Ulster today as fullback Adam D’Arcy was named in the squad. The Australian has battled with injury troubles all season.
With Jackson out, coach Mark Anscombe may start Niall O’Connor or shift Ruan Pienaar to the 10 jersey and bring in Paul Marshall at scrumhalf.
Extended Ulster squad
Forwards (14): Mike McComish, Callum Black, Rory Best, Robbie Diack, Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Declan Fitzpatrick, Nick Williams, Rob Herring, Ali Birch, Ricky Lutton, Tom Court, Iain Henderson, Neil McComb.
Backs (11): Ruan Pienaar, Jared Payne, Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall, Peter Nelson, Tommy Bowe, Niall O’Connor, Michael Allen, Adam D’Arcy, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave.