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Frustration as Tommy Bowe is laid low yet again with injury

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster star Tommy Bowe has been dealt yet another injury blow - and could now miss his EIGHTH consecutive Ireland Test.

Joe Schmidt's side face South Africa in just nine days' time and it was confirmed yesterday that the winger was undergoing return to play protocols following a concussive injury sustained playing for his province against Toulon last weekend.

Rarely out of action during the early years of a stellar career, Bowe has endured a frustrating string of misfortunes since a return to Ulster in the summer of 2012.

Having been left off the summer tour to Argentina in order to fully recover from the groin injury that had caused him to miss Ireland's successful Six Nations campaign last season, the former Osprey has not represented Ireland since the heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand in Dublin almost a year ago.

The 30-year-old also missed the entirety of the 2013 Six Nations thanks to a knee injury sustained in the Heineken Cup defeat to Northampton the previous December.

Despite the most recent knock, Bowe played all 80 minutes of Ulster's second successive European defeat and, even if he is to miss the Test next Saturday, there is no reason to suspect that he won't be back in a green shirt soon.

One of Ireland's most consistent operators since the 2009 Grand Slam, Bowe has recently stated that he feels in better physical condition than ever and Schmidt will be praying that the Monaghan man's wretched run of luck comes to an end before the World Cup in 2015 where he will still be expected to be a key contributor.

Stuart Olding is undergoing the same return to play protocols as Bowe after he also received a blow to the head in the Toulon defeat at the Kingspan.

The young centre was substituted in the 47th minute after shipping a boot to the head and the French side's lock Romain Taofifenua faces a hearing in Dublin this morning over his alleged role in the second-half incident.

The Ulster pair were just two of the names included in a lengthy injury update issued by the IRFU yesterday.

Rob Kearney, Bowe's British and Irish Lions team-mate in both 2009 and 2013, did not feature in either of Leinster's Champions Cup victories over the last fortnight and has been struggling with a back injury.

He, along with tighthead prop Mike Ross, is expected to return to full training next week ahead of the visit from the Springboks.

Gordon D'Arcy left Leinster's victory over Castres - his 100th appearance in European competition - on the hour mark after picking up a groin injury and will, according to the IRFU, "be managed over the coming days."

Jack McGrath, who picked up an arm injury in the same game and has been heavily relied upon in recent weeks, trained yesterday and showed no ill effects from his weekend endeavours.

Fellow loosehead James Cronin did not travel to Carton House however and awaits specialist feedback on the ankle injury he picked up during Munster's victory over English side Saracens last Friday evening.

The substantial injury missive was the last thing Ireland fans wanted to hear with Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy and Andrew Trimble, all three of whom would have undoubtedly started, ruled out for the meeting with Heyneke Meyer's side next weekend.

Ulster trio Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall and Dan Tuohy are also absent, as are Keith Earls, Donnacha Ryan, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Martin Moore and Jordi Murphy, while the recently returned Luke Fitzgerald was not considered.

After the South Africa challenge, Ireland welcome Georgia and Australia to the Aviva Stadium on successive weekends.

IT will be a festive Friday for Ulster Rugby as yesterday's confirmation of dates and kick-off times for the PRO12 programme has them playing Connacht on Boxing Night, in the 11th round of league games, with a starting time of 6.45pm at the Kingspan Stadium.

Two rounds later, Neil Doak's squad also meet Treviso on Sunday January 11 with a kick-off time of 3.00pm (4.00pm UK time) while the dates and times of all games in rounds 14-17 were also made known yesterday.

After their European programme ends in January, Ulster then host Treviso at home in the PRO12's round 14 on Friday February 13 at 7.35pm.

They see out the month with another Friday game at Edinburgh seven days later with a 7.35pm kick-off before taking on the Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium on February 27, which is again on a Friday and with a 7.35pm start.

The PRO12's round 17, on the first weekend of March, brings an end to the known dates and times of this block of games and Ulster are at the Dragons on Sunday, March 8 with proceedings getting under way at 4.00pm.

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