Ulster's Iain Henderson faces six months on sidelines
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss is fearful that star forward Iain Henderson will play no further part in his team's season thanks to the hamstring tear suffered in the Pro12 win over Edinburgh last week.
The flanker-cum-lock was carted from the field after five minutes of last Friday's game, but initial hopes were that Henderson could return from the injury in time to feature for Ireland in the Six Nations.
That optimism has now been dashed.
With six months set as the time frame for the 23-year-old's recovery, such a lengthy absence would take him beyond the end of Ulster's season.
"The type of injury historically has been up to six months," said Kiss.
"It doesn't look good in terms of the Six Nations."
It is a cruel blow for both the player and Ulster who have not seen much of their budding young star who made such an impression at the World Cup this autumn.
Thanks to hip, hand and now hamstring injuries, Henderson has appeared more often for Ireland than he has for Ulster since embarking on the tour of Argentina in 2014 - 13 times compared to 12 - with the latest misfortune compounding the frustration of also being without Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Stuart Olding, Dan Tuohy, Darren Cave and Pete Nelson for Friday's crucial Champions Cup tie with Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium.
With the other provinces also suffering a heavy injury toll, some have speculated that the increasingly physical nature of the game or the intense schedule of a World Cup year could be to blame.
Kiss doesn't believe that the lengthy list of absentees is anything more than bad luck.
"It worries me that players get injured yes, but that's the nature of the beast," he said.
"It's part and parcel of the game. I think the weekend was just a little bit of bad luck really.
"Darren Cave came very early and Hendy wasn't a contact injury. Dan and Pete, if you fall in the wrong place and someone lands on your foot, it's just unlucky. I wouldn't say it's a trend or anything."
Encouraged by what he saw from those filling the void against Edinburgh, Kiss is calling for a continuation against the French visitors as he looks to get Ulster's European campaign back on track after the opening defeat to Saracens.
"You don't like these things to happen, but you do find out a little bit more about yourself and about the group," he said.
"That came out in spade-fulls (against Edinburgh).
"Players had to adapt to different positions and the conditions. Once again we didn't win the toss so you don't get the ideal way you'd like to play.
"In those conditions, that's a pretty good effort from the forward pack but also Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson playing the game in the right areas. Guys stood up in a variety of ways."
With Saracens top of the pool after taking nine points from two games, Kiss understands that when Toulouse visit on Friday neither side can afford to lose.
"There's probably not a true line through it, but there's a strong perception of where that line sits and you'd be stupid to think Saracens don't have an edge," he said.
"For Toulouse there's a lot on the line to make sure they stay in touch.
"For us it's important we get the money because we need to stay in touch as well.
"If we can get the win at home it opens up an opportunity going forward.
"Obviously Saracens are playing at Oyonnax, most of the good money is on them and they get the chance to jump away a little bit, but for us and Toulouse it's a vital game really."