Rory Best battling to make Six Nations
Rory Best is out of Ulster's pre-Christmas Heineken Cup dates with Benetton Treviso – and is racing against time to be fit for the RBS Six Nations in the new year.
The Ulster hooker, who suffered a right forearm break in the 15th minute of Ireland's agonising final-play defeat to the All Blacks on Sunday, will undergo surgery tomorrow.
The severity of the break will be assessed during the operation and until such times as it is, Ulster – and Ireland – do not know how long they can expect to be without their 31-year-old British and Irish Lion.
Recovery times vary depending on age, the nature of the break and the victim's physical condition.
As an athlete, Best – Ireland's most-capped hooker – is in excellent shape.
In addition, he has a record for staging remarkably quick recoveries.
Best made a superb start to the Aviva Test, hitting his line-out targets with exemplary throws, as well as scoring his ninth try for Ireland in what was his 70th international appearance.
Ulster's Director of Rugby, David Humphreys, acknowledged: "It is a big blow to lose Rory for those Heineken Cup matches.
"Obviously we want to get him back as soon as possible – that would be a huge bonus for us as he showed in the first 15 minutes against the All Blacks what a huge impact he can make in a game."
Best is not the only Ulster and Ireland player who will be undergoing surgery tomorrow.
Stuart Olding, 20, will be in theatre for an operation on the anterior cruciate ligament he ruptured in his left knee while playing for the Ravens against Connacht Eagles on November 15.
At yesterday's launch of the 2013-14 Danske Bank Schools' Cup he told the Belfast Telegraph: "Wednesday morning I'm going in for the operation and I'll be staying overnight. The time schedule is for me to be back training and playing nine months later."
Asked how he felt, Olding replied: "I feel a lot better now than I did at the time it happened. I was devastated for the first 20 minutes after that, but I've accepted there is nothing I can do but accept it and do what I'm told for the next nine months and then hopefully come back stronger and better.
"There have been a few ACL injuries, not just in Ulster but in top international rugby as well. I saw Quade Cooper do his and I did mine the exact same way. He's played for Australia in the autumn internationals and has been doing very well.
"I've got a lot of confidence that I'll come back from it and hopefully I'll still have another 14 or 15 years of my career ahead of me so I'm not too keyed up about it.
"I just want to get this injury over with, come back and have a good season and then just take it from there. There's a World Cup in 2015 so that's what I'm going to aim for."
Asked if he had heard from Irish coach Joe Schmidt he said: "He sent me a text to say he's devastated about it and just wishing me all the best."
With Best out for an indefinite period and Olding sidelined for the rest of 2013-14, Ulster have other less serious but more pressing injury concerns ahead of Saturday's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Zebre in Parma.
A total of five players – Ian Henderson, Lewis Stevenson, Michael Allen, Darren Cave and Luke Marshall – suffered injuries in Friday night's 41-17 victory over Edinburgh at Ravenhill.
Locks Henderson (hamstring) and Stevenson are the worst affected, the former having picked up a hamstring injury, the latter having sustained medial ligament damage in his right knee which will sideline him for up to six weeks.
A date for Henderson's return should be known today when results of a MRI scan are assessed.
The news on centres Marshall and Cave is much better however, for with their problems having been identified as nothing more serious than cramp, both are expected to be available for the trip to Italy.