Jonathan Sexton faces a fight to recover for Ireland duty
Jonathan Sexton is up against it if he is to be ready to line out for Ireland in November.
Ireland's first-choice outside-half suffered a broken jaw while playing for Racing Metro in Sunday's 17-10 Top14 victory over star-studded, free-spending Toulon, last season's winners of that competition and the Heineken Cup.
Sexton, scorer of a first-half conversion and a penalty against the 2013-14 double champions, was floored in a heavy challenge by Toulon hooker Craig Burden, who was yellow carded.
That will be of little consolation to Sexton, Racing or Irish coach Joe Schmidt for the result is that the 2013 British and Irish Lions stand-off in the three Tests against Australia now faces a race against the clock if he is to be ready for Ireland's November 8 date with South Africa at the Aviva Stadium.
The following two weekends, Schmidt's side entertain Georgia and Australia in Dublin – all important fixtures as Ireland start the long countdown to the 2015 World Cup.
The widespread belief is that this time next year Sexton will be back in his native Dublin as a re-signed Leinster player.
That is a move Schmidt would be delighted to see for since moving to Racing in the summer of 2013, Sexton – now 29 – has been deployed to the point of near-exhaustion with his Parisian employers clearly intent on wringing maximum return from the player whose services have cost them so much.
Thirteen club games in 12 weeks after joining Racing saw a shattered Sexton team up with Ireland last autumn. Ulster's Paddy Jackson got the nod to start at 10 in the first Test against Samoa and although Sexton played against Australia a week later, he was substituted early in the second half having kicked four penalties.
At the time Schmidt made no secret of his frustration at not being able to limit Sexton's game-time in the Top14.
While a return to Leinster next summer has the appearance of a done deal, at this point nothing has been signed and while that remains the case, Sexton's employers will continue to hope he may yet be persuaded to stay in France.
Leinster have a very different outcome in mind and on-the-record comments by some of Sexton's former team-mates suggest that they know exactly what his choice will be come the time for putting pen to paper.
If he fails to recover in time to face South Africa 10 weeks from now, Jackson would be favourite to deputise. That said, Leinster's Ian Madigan and Munster pair Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan would also be in the frame.
Jackson, who underwent back surgery during the summer and missed out on Ireland's tour of Argentina as a result, has yet to play this season.
His absence from the friendlies against Exeter Chiefs and Leinster saw Ian Humphreys start at 10, to very good effect. To date since re-joining Ulster from London Irish his goal-kicking, decision-making and link-up play have been top drawer.
Humphreys picked up a shin injury in Saturday night's victory over Leinster, but will be fit for Saturday's Guinness PRO12 kick-off against Scarlets in Llanelli.
And there is good news on Stuart Olding and Rory Scholes who exited with hand and hip injuries respectively; both are available for the weekend.