Glory bids hit by rising injury toll
The southern provinces are counting the cost after a bruising series of festive derby games, with Munster particularly hard hit ahead of the visit of Treviso to Thomond Park on Saturday.
Of the three players — Damien Varley, Tom Gleeson and Tommy O'Donnell — who were forced off in the course of the heavy defeat to Ulster in Belfast last Friday night, hooker Varley's shoulder injury looks to be the least serious.
However, Gleeson (shoulder) and O'Donnell (knee) will require further examination later in the week to establish the full extent of their injuries.
Peter O'Mahony (jaw) is expected to resume training this week, with a possible return, subject to medical clearance, against the Italians on the cards.
Denis Leamy (hip) and exciting young full-back Sean Scanlon, a try scorer on his full debut against Connacht on St Stephen's Day, are also facing a race against time to be fit for Saturday's game as Munster's injury list soars beyond double figures.
Mike Sherry (ankle) has resumed light jogging, Felix Jones (foot) is looking at a return sometime in late January/early February, while Troy Smith (knee) and David Wallace (knee) are on schedule for a return in February.
Sadly, nothing can be confirmed about a return date for calf-injury victim Jerry Flannery, with Doug Howlett (Achilles) already ruled out for the season, and the luckless prop Darragh Hurley, who has a back injury, looking at up to four months on the sidelines.
Leinster are awaiting news on the facial injury suffered by their hooker Richardt Strauss as they prepare for a trip to face Cardiff Blues in this Saturday's league clash.
The European champions emerged with the best record of the Irish provinces after their twin inter-provincial challenges, maintaining their six-point lead at the head of the Pro12.
“Richardt Strauss got a blow on the nose and it might be a little bit broken,” confirmed Joe Schmidt after Leinster emerged from Galway with a smash-and-grab 15-13 win on Sunday.
“Hopefully he will bounce back,” Schmidt added.
Poor Connacht, still rattling around the nether regions of the league following their 12th straight defeat in all competitions, can ill-afford their new casualties.
Brian Tuohy (broken leg), Johnny O'Connor (suspected fractured cheekbone) and Ronan Loughney (shoulder) have all joined flanker Dave Gannon, tight-head Rodney Ah You and centre Eoin Griffin on the sidelines.
And the back injury to out half Niall O'Connor, which failed to respond to treatment in time for Sunday's agonising defeat to Leinster, must surely remain a cause for concern as Eric Elwood seeks some solace in a trip to basement side Aironi on Saturday.
“I was worried about the wear and tear in the first week in September,” bemoaned Elwood.
“We don't have the rotation policy because we don't have the numbers,” he added.