Ulster's lengthy Pro12 clash injury list rocks Champions Cup hopes
With Toulouse to come home and away in the Champions Cup over the next two weeks, Ulster have been left counting the cost of last Friday's 14-7 PRO12 win over Edinburgh after confirmation yesterday that a further FOUR players would miss the games through injury.
Les Kiss required his bench early and often in the victory over the Scottish side as Iain Henderson, Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy and Peter Nelson all succumbed to injury and none of that quartet will make it back this side of Christmas.
Nelson is the longest-term casualty with what had been shaping up to be a breakthrough season for the Dungannon full-back now over thanks to a dislocated mid-foot.
After staying the night in the Ulster Independent Clinic following the injury, Nelson was released over the weekend but will only have surgery once swelling subsides.
Having started the season in the No.10 jersey because of Paddy Jackson's World Cup involvement and injuries to Ian Henderson and Sam Windsor, he had recently established himself in his preferred full-back slot and the 23-year-old will be a significant loss.
While Ulster originally thought Tuohy's injury may not be serious, it has been revealed that the lock fractured his right ankle while also sustaining ligament damage.
He will be seen by a surgeon today to decide whether an operation is required but the Bristol-born 30-year-old will be out for at least two months.
Fellow forward Henderson was carted from the field in the fifth minute of what was just his third game back in an Ulster shirt after thumb surgery in October and has suffered a "significant" tear of his left hamstring.
He will also be subject to a surgeon's review to ascertain an accurate prognosis for his return to action but as revealed by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, the player has, as of yet, not given up hope of featuring for Joe Schmidt in Ireland's bid for a third consecutive Six Nations crown come February.
Of the four, it is Cave who will return to action the quickest with the centre's injured AC joint set to rule him out for a minimum of two games.
That would see him miss both Toulouse fixtures but could bring him back into contention for the festive PRO12 battles against Connacht away and Munster at home.
There was better news on Roger Wilson, who suffered a back spasm on the afternoon of the Edinburgh match and was a late withdrawal from the starting line-up.
After Nick Williams started at No.8 and Clive Ross performed strongly off the bench, Wilson will be back this weekend to boost Ulster's options.
With Rory Best rested for the Edinburgh game, Rob Herring offered another eye-catching outing at hooker but was seen limping heavily.
Both he and his skipper are, however, available.
The province have already had to do without Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne all season after the latter pair were injured on World Cup duty and the former suffered a second serious knee injury last season.
Both Olding and Bowe are hoping to resume training in the New Year while the original prognosis for Payne's broken foot - operated on in October - was a two-month spell on the sidelines.
The absence of another four key contributors makes Ulster's task against the four-time winners this week all the more daunting, especially considering their opening game at home against Saracens yielded no points.
After the Oyonnax clash postponed in light of the Paris terror attacks was rescheduled for the second weekend in January - with an exact day and time due this week - Ulster face three consecutive European games following the hosting of Munster on January 2 with a trip to Saracens and the return contest against Oyonnax rounding off Pool 1.