Injuries stall McCall's grand Ulster plan

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The Independent Online

James Topping is set to miss Ulster's opening Celtic League fixture against Edinburgh today, due to a leg injury.

The 29-year-old winger, who has eight caps for Ireland, ran into an advertising hoarding during the 30-7 friendly defeat to the Gwent Dragons last weekend. X-rays have shown that there were no fractures to his damaged ankle.

The flanker Neil McMillan is also in danger of missing the Murrayfield tie - a repeat of last year's Celtic Cup final - with the 23-year-old still suffering from a niggling knee injury.

I addition, Ulster's new coach Mark McCall will be without internationals David Humphreys, Simon Best, Tyrone Howe and the summer signing Kevin Maggs, who are half-way through the national squad's 10-week conditioning period.

Edinburgh, who finished eight places behind Ulster in 10th last season, ended their pre-season campaign last week with a 47-17 defeat at Northampton.

"It is great to start our season at Murrayfield but I don't think it is going to be the most intimidating place to go to of all time," McCall said. "It holds 65,000 people and there won't be 65,000 people there. Our players are probably as used to playing there as their players so in that regard it does not hold any fears for us."

McCall admitted that he and the squad were far from happy at their performance in the heavy defeat against the Dragons. He added: "We were all dissatisfied with our performance. I can give the players a number of excuses for that. We had the camp and that was very demanding physically, and we also travelled a lot. You would never prepare in that way for a Celtic League game.

"But that excuse taken away, we still were dissatisfied with how we played and we have worked on a number of areas we were not happy with this week. We sat in the changing room on Saturday and we all said: 'It hasn't started yet'. It wasn't the ideal way to go into the Celtic League game in many ways. But both Andy Ward and myself said to the boys: 'No points have been lost, come into work on Monday upbeat and positive.'

"It is not ideal with all the injuries we have got, but I still think it is a competitive side we are putting out and we have prepared well all week."

With the Scottish internationals Scott Murray, Chris Paterson, Simon Cross, Mike Blair, Allister Hogg and Derrick Lee all available for Edinburgh, Ulster are up against it. "If we win tomorrow it doesn't mean we have suddenly turned the corner or the pressure is off," added McCall. "It would be great to get an away win, but it doesn't mean we are going to win the league."