Concern as injured Tommy Bowe is facing a lengthy Ulster lay-off after Rugby World Cup injury
Fears are growing that Ulster's Tommy Bowe is almost certain to miss out on Ireland's defence of the Six Nations title and could be lucky to play again this season.
The two-time Lions winger injured his knee in the opening stages of Ireland's World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina and it is believed that ligament damage is set to keep him out for a period of six to nine months.
The IRFU have remained tight-lipped on the issue since the team's return to Dublin on Monday when Bowe limped off the plane on crutches and wearing a knee brace, but Ulster play Cardiff at home tonight (7.35) and confirmation of the bad news could come after the final whistle.
The Monaghan man has endured a luckless second stint at his native province since re-signing three and a half years ago.
Rarely unavailable in the early part of his career, Bowe - who will likely have turned 32 by the time he plays again - has picked up four significant injuries in the previous four seasons.
Having returned to Ulster from Ospreys shortly after undergoing kidney surgery in 2012, he picked up a serious knee injury during a December 2012 Heineken Cup clash with Northampton.
He returned to fitness in time to claim a place on the Lions tour, although missed a Test against the Wallabies with a broken bone in his hand, while a groin injury against New Zealand in 2013 saw him miss all of the following year's Six Nations.
Last November, Bowe, who at the World Cup became Ireland's second highest try-scorer of all time, signed a contract that keeps him at Ulster until the summer of 2018.
The Kingspan outfit are at least well covered in the wing positions, with Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy again starting tonight, but the loss of the popular Bowe is a further setback after the news that Jared Payne's broken foot could see him miss two months.