Anxious wait for Ulster director Less Kiss over fitness of Irish stars
Ulster are bracing themselves for the possibility of being without Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble for a crucial run of fixtures.
Both men were injured while playing for Ireland in the 27-24 win over Australia on Saturday and Director of Rugby Les Kiss is still waiting to find out the full extent of their issues.
Co-captain Trimble shipped an ankle injury that makes him a major doubt for the European double-header with Clermont in December while Payne suffered a blow to the ribs that means he looks likely to have played his last game of 2016.
Centre Stuart Olding also damaged his hamstring on Ireland duty, although in his case during training at Carton House, but his injury is the least serious of the three.
The trio will all be absent for Ulster's Guinness PRO12 trip to Cardiff on Saturday evening (5.15pm kick-off), as will Rory Best and Paddy Jackson under the IRFU's player management programme.
Iain Henderson, who also featured for Ireland over the past two weeks, has been cleared to play, but did not train yesterday with Ulster also hoping to have Stuart McCloskey and Rodney Ah You available.
McCloskey fractured a bone in his foot against Glasgow earlier in the season while Ah You has not featured since the win over Exeter last month. Neither were set to play against Zebre last week before the game was postponed due to a frozen pitch.
Chris Henry was due to take on the Italians but will now play his first game of the season at the Arms Park on Saturday.
Forwards coach Allen Clarke said: "It's player management full stop, not just national management.
"We'll look after the players as well, the likes of Jacko and Besty, they've played a lot of minutes.
"A couple of boys are carrying knocks and injuries too that will rule them out of this week.
"We are hopeful that Rodney Ah You and Stuart McCloskey will be back in the mix. They completed the majority of the session and we'll just see how they come through."
Clarke admitted Ulster are desperate for a win on their visit to the Welsh capital, having lost three league games on the bounce and going four weeks since their last fixture.
"They started really well like ourselves and are coming off the back of a few losses in the league," he said. "They're going to be up to get a performance at home and we're conscious of that. They're a good side, they play with tempo, they've very dangerous backs and when you couple that with their back row, they're a fine unit.
"Against a team desperate for a win, playing at home, we know the challenges. Equally, we're desperate for a win and it's critical that we deliver."