With the start of the competitive season fast approaching, Ulster will discover today how long they are likely to be without wing ace Tommy Bowe.
The 29-year-old — one of only three Irishmen to have made the British and Irish Lions starting line-up for the ultimately successful series-defining third Test against Australia last month — has a wrist ligament problem.
Worst case scenario is that he could be out for three months.
If so, he will miss Ulster’s first two Heineken Cup pool-stage ties against Leicester Tigers in Belfast and Montpellier in France.
Ulster’s season gets under way on Friday week with a Ravenhill friendly against old rivals Leinster, and yesterday in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph coach Mark Anscombe revealed: “Tommy did his wrist ligaments on the same hand as he broke the bone.
“They’re having a little look at that tomorrow to determine what the extent of that might be.
“They’re checking that out, going in for a little keyhole.
“If they just have to clean it out he’ll be back as scheduled, but if they need to fix the ligaments it will be 12 weeks.”
The scheduled date to which Anscombe alluded is Ulster’s trip to Swansea to face the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium on October 4.
Bowe — who returned to the Ulster fold in the summer of 2012 following four seasons with the Ospreys — was in dry dock from December to April last season after suffering a lateral ligament injury to his right knee in the closing stages of Ulster’s Heineken Cup defeat to Northampton at Ravenhill.
Following that, he returned just in time to book himself a place on the Lions plane down under, only then to suffer the agony of a broken bone in his right hand in the warm-up match against Queensland Reds.
But incredibly, he defied medical convention by recovering in double-quick time, returning to face the Wallabies in the second Test little over three weeks later.
With Bowe having chalked up 26 tries in 51 matches, only Brian O’Driscoll and Dennis Hickey are ahead of him in the all-time Irish try scorers table.
Typically, New Zealander Anscombe refused to make a drama out of the possible loss of his world-class wing, instead stressing the positives.
Confirming the availability of his Ulster side’s various summer tourists, Anscombe said: “Having been on the Lions tour, Tommy and Rory (Best) are due back for round four of the Rabo (Direct PRO12).”
He added: “Because they were away with Ireland, Stuart Olding, Iain Henderson and Darren Cave are out until round two (at home to Glasgow Warriors on September 13).
“But all the rest are available from round one and most can play some game-time in pre-season.
“The guys have trained really well and I’m happy with where we are at this stage.”