There was good news for Munster and Ireland yesterday when hooker Jerry Flannery was included in the squad to take on Ulster at Thomond Park tomorrow.
Munster name their team at lunchtime today and the fact that Flannery is in contention for the first time since injuring his calf against Toulon last October is a welcome boost for coach Tony McGahan after a tough victory in Galway last Monday.
Already without long-term injury victims, full-back Felix Jones and Flannery's fellow hooker Denis Fogarty, Munster lost flanker Alan Quinlan and prop Dave Ryan in that win over Connacht.
Quinlan dislocated an elbow and medical examinations confirmed that the Tipperary man will be out of action until February, while Ryan, forced off in the dying seconds against Connacht, has an “acute shoulder injury” which will rule him out of action for several weeks and may require surgery.
Back-row James Coughlan, who did not feature against Connacht, is seeing a specialist after injuring his cheekbone against the Ospreys two weeks ago. Out-half Ronan O'Gara, flanker David Wallace and second-row Donncha O'Callaghan have not been named in the squad but other Ireland players such as scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, back-row Denis Leamy and props Tony Buckley and John Hayes are all named.
Flannery's involvement in a national training camp in Belfast meant he did not take part in Munster's training session in Cork yesterday and he is very much part of Ireland coach Declan Kidney's Six Nations plans, having not featured for his country since the defeat to France in February.
Damien Varley has established himself as Munster's first-choice hooker in the absence of Flannery and Fogarty with Mike Sherry also coming through strongly.
Varley's impressive form has pushed himself into the international reckoning also, with the Garryowen man winning his second cap against Argentina in November after making his debut on the summer tour against Australia.
With Rory Best also returning to the Ulster squad after recovering from a jaw injury and Connacht's Sean Cronin continuing his impressive run of form, Flannery's return provides Kidney with a wealth of options at hooker looking ahead to the Six Nations.
Cronin has started four of Ireland's last six internationals, both summer Tests against New Zealand and Australia and the November internationals against Samoa and Argentina with Best starting the remaining two against South Africa and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Connacht have suffered another serious injury blow with No 8 Ezra Taylor out until at least February after breaking a bone in his hand during the 16-12 loss to Munster on Monday evening.
The former Queensland Reds player will miss Saturday's clash against Leinster and Connacht's third Magners League clash in 11 days when they travel to Newport to play the Dragons next Thursday.
The 27-year old will also miss the Amlin Challenge Cup games against Bayonne and Cavalieri Prato.
The timing of the injury could not be much worse with skipper John Muldoon set to miss most of the season, while the versatile backrower Ray Ofisa is still out having been injured in October.
Coach Eric Elwood said that Taylor's injury has left the Connacht management with a major selection headache ahead of Saturday's New Year's Day Magners League clash with Leinster.
“We thought Ezra was going to be okay and that he didn't require surgery but now he is going to be out for six to seven weeks.
“That leaves us with a crisis in the back row. With John Muldoon out we have already had to call in Eoin McKeon and with Mike McComish fluey and sick we are very short,” said Elwood.