Tommy Bowe hammer blow: Six Nations hopes look over as injury woe rumbles on
Tommy Bowe will again be missing for Ulster's PRO12 clash with the Scarlets at Ravenhill on Friday night (kick-off 7.05pm) as he continues his struggle to shake off the groin muscle tear he suffered while on Ireland duty last November.
It is yet another blow for the Ireland and Lions winger as it had it had been hoped he would return to playing this week as indeed had been intimated by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt in the aftermath of last Saturday's resounding win over Wales.
But Bowe – who turns 30 next week and has not played since picking up the injury during Ireland's defeat to the All Blacks – will again have to sit out Friday's action.
With no definitive indication of when he may be fit enough to take the field, his chances of returning in time to potentially have any input into this season's Six Nations are now looking effectively over.
Yesterday, Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak revealed that Bowe was still struggling with his injury and that he would not be in consideration against the Scarlets.
"He's doing a little bit of running but I can't see it (this week)," Doak said.
"I'm not exactly 100% certain what's wrong, but he obviously had a bit of a groin issue and that's basically what's grumbling on.
"We'd obviously like to get Tommy back as soon as possible, as would Ireland," Doak added.
Meanwhile, third-placed Ulster – going for their 10th consecutive home win in all competitions this season – are hoping to be going into Friday night's game with Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Iain Henderson all on board with no Ireland game this week.
"Ireland are still training this week," said Doak (below) referring to the mini-camp being held at Clonmel in Co Tipperary.
"So we have to wait and see what the senior team is like injury wise and whatever knock-on effect that may have for the provinces.
"Paddy Jackson hasn't had a lot of game-time, so fingers crossed there might be an opportunity for him to get some this weekend," added Doak, who with Anthony Foley coached the Ireland Wolfhounds to their win over England Saxons.
Having Jackson available would be a considerable boost and Doak admitted that Ulster's tactical kicking game lacked its expected accuracy in last Friday's 10-7 win over the Ospreys, though the appalling weather conditions clearly played a part in that.
Elsewhere, Ulster remain hopeful that Darren Cave's knee hyperextension will not rule him out of Friday night's game, but there are worries concerning Lewis Stevenson's neck problem and, with Dan Tuohy already out, either Henderson or Robbie Diack may get the nod.
"He is a big loss to us," Doak said of losing Tuohy with the fractured forearm the replacement lock picked up last Saturday against Wales.
"But somebody's injury can create opportunities for others. Hendy (Iain Henderson) hasn't had a lot of game time over the last while so obviously he might now get a bit of exposure going forward."
Even though he is expecting the sixth-placed Scarlets to be close to full strength, Doak is understandably confident that Ulster can stay on the winning track.
"At this stage it's about making sure we keep the ball rolling and keep our home record going and, if we do that, that will obviously keep us there or there abouts (in the league's top four).
"Then hopefully post-Six Nations we'll get everyone back in tow and try and kick-start the back end of the season with a real push to get in the latter stages of both competitions," Doak added.