Ireland's Six Nations plans were dealt a serious blow over the weekend with the news that Jerry Flannery needs an operation which could rule him out of action for up to three months.
The Munster hooker performed superbly during the November internationals despite going into the series chronically short of game time due to injury and the latest news is another blow for a player who was unable to travel with the Lions to South Africa after breaking his arm in training.
Flannery was a late withdrawal ahead of Friday night's narrow Heineken Cup win over Perpignan in Thomond, with what was originally described as a “slight Achilles problem,” but has since been diagnosed as far more serious.
The hooker is due to go for exploratory surgery tomorrow and a best-case scenario would see Flannery return in mid-to-late January with the Six Nations commencing at the start of February.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney has already had to cope with his other experienced hooker after Ulster's Rory Best was ruled out for the season and Connacht's Sean Cronin looks to be in pole position now after making his debut of the bench against Fiji last month.
Like Flannery, Cronin is from Limerick and is on the same career path through Shannon and Connacht where he has become as hugely influential figure for Michael Bradley's team.
John Fogarty's consistency for Leinster this season has earned him selection ahead of Bernard Jackman and his younger brother Denis looks to be the other main contender.
The younger Fogarty played extremely well in place of Flannery in Thomond although there remain question marks over some of his lineout throwing while Jackman and Ulster's Andy Kyriacou are the other names on Kidney's shortlist.