Ulster Rugby facing a player shortage after Darren Cave's call
Ulster centre Darren Cave's latest Irish call-up as cover for Brian O'Driscoll has left an already-threadbare provincial back-line in an even more flimsy state for Friday night's PRO12 clash with Edinburgh at Ravenhill (7.05pm).
Coach Mark Anscombe admitted that he is struggling to find backs.
"It's as good a challenge as we've had," was his diplomatic version of events. "We'll have a pretty capable forward pack but at this stage, unless we get one or two back from Dublin, the back line that played for the Ravens last weekend might not be too dissimilar to what we'll have this Friday night."
Even then he will be without 20-year-old Stuart Olding whose season ended when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the Ravens' win against Connacht Eagles. The loss of so talented a player is a huge blow.
"It's devastating," Anscombe said, his upset clearly audible. "He's the one exciting prospect in Irish rugby, so I'm devastated for the guy because he's a great kid and he has a great future.
"We've just to make sure that we support him during this time. If we can do that and everything goes well, there's no reason why he won't be there for the start of pre-season."
Despite the player shortage he faces as a result of injuries and the absence of players on international duty, Anscombe was stoical.
"It happens and we can't grizzle about the fact that it does," he said. "I suppose the biggest thing we have to do is look at ourselves as an organisation and ask if we've got the right depth?
"I think where we get hit all the time is in the backs. With Stuart gone now we could have nine backs unavailable for this weekend, guys who would be recognised as our top drawer players. So that's a challenge.
"The other way of looking at it is that it gives others opportunities. But I think we have to look at ourselves and ask if we're building depth, in certain areas, well enough."
There is a huge positive, however – Ireland wing Craig Gilroy is fit to resume. Having recovered from the groin injury which saw him miss Ireland's summer matches in the USA and Canada, Gilroy then had the misfortune to suffer an ankle injury in Ulster's victory over the Ospreys.
"It has been a slow start to the season for Gilly so it's been good to see him bouncing around," Anscombe said. "There's a bit of energy in his legs and a little bit of excitement in him. It's good to see him finally get back.
"But, as I've said, we're not complaining. I'm sure Edinburgh have a few guys out as well, as do Leinster and the others. At times like this you can make excuses, but as an organisation I think we have to look at it and ask if we're developing in the right areas and building depth there.
"These things will always happen, they're not one-offs," he pointed out.
"We got caught last year at times and here it is again. So we know that it happens, though we don't know when. That's where you need your depth cover.
"We lost four, eight, 12 points mid-season (last year) and sometimes when that happens, even when everyone's back on deck it can be hard to catch up again."