Ulster are resigned to the fact that they are likely to be without Paddy McAllister for the entire season.
For although there can be no precise prognosis of 23-year-old loose-head’s chances until he is assessed today by a specialist, the big prop’s left knee injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament — obviously is going to require surgery.
Ordinarily an injury of that severity would entail a lengthy spell on the sidelines. The best case scenario is seven months, the worst is nine.
In other words, McAllister is not going to be available until the latter stages of the 2012/13 campaign at the earliest. In such circumstances, Ulster would not attempt to rush him back.
The 6ft 1ins prop with the distinctive white hair is highly-rated throughout Irish rugby. Despite the fact that he celebrated his 23rd birthday less than a month ago, already he has earned 44 Ulster caps.
He has also been capped been by Ireland at Schools, U19 and U20 levels and was named as a support player in the squad for last season’s RBS Six Nations Championship.
Like Ulster coach Mark Anscombe, Ireland’s Declan Kidney will be keen to hear the specialists’ opinions as to when — and in what condition — the Royal School Armagh-educated front row protégé is likely to return.
A spokesman for Ulster confirmed: “The injury happened during training last Tuesday in France. It’s really unfortunate for Paddy; this could have been a big season for him because he probably was looking a fair bit more game-time than last year.”
McAllister is viewed as Ravenhill colleague Tom Court’s natural understudy at number one, but now, in his absence, Ulster must absorb the blow and move on.
And as with every cloud, this one has a silver lining with Callum Black — who played in Thursday’s 20-15 victory in Bayonne — the man tipped to gain most from McAllister’s misfortune.
However Ricky Lutton, 26, is another who stands to benefit, too.
A mere one day older than Black, who now occupies second spot behind Court in the Ulster loose-head pecking order, the battle between that pair promises to be spicy.
Certainly Lutton will see himself as having been presented with a real chance to press his case, not least because he had a spell in New Zealand with Canterbury a couple of years ago before returning to Belfast and will therefore have been on the radar of Ulster’s Kiwi coach Anscombe.
As well as excelling for the Ravens last term, Lutton shone at club level in the colours of Belfast Harlequins, culminating in him picking up the Ken Goodall Award for the Outstanding Club Player of the Year at last May’s Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards.
And he has since been given an Ulster development contract, further proof of Director of Rugby David Humphreys’ faith in him.