Ulster left to wonder when their luck will turn
Coach Mark Anscombe fears the injury jinx which has bedevilled his Ulster side may have struck again.
Iain Henderson, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday, is the latest concern. The big forward who is equally at home in the second or back rows picked up a foot ligament injury late on in Saturday's Six Nations defeat by Italy in Rome and could be sidelined for the remainder of the campaign.
Henderson has provided cover for Stephen Ferris who will miss the rest of 2012/13 due to the ankle injury which has seen him in dry dock since November 2.
Adding to Anscombe's woes is the fact that Henderson's 22-year-old fellow-international Luke Marshall suffered concussion in that same Stadio Olimpico battle, the second time in a week that he fell victim to a head blow.
Marshall – the obvious choice to play in midfield in the wake of Paddy Wallace's derailment due to having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament – is up against it, too, if he is to be fit to face Saracens in the Heineken Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on April 6.
Anscombe explained this latest double whammy by saying: "In Luke's case we had medical reports yesterday and things were being done with him at that stage. But clearly back to back concussions are a concern and normally that would take at least two to three weeks.
"We just have to assess that and see how he responds.
"He certainly won't be available for this week's game against Edinburgh and maybe the following one against Leinster. We don't know at this stage; we'll just have to wait and see."
He held out little hope of Henderson being available in the near future, however.
"Hendo had a scan yesterday and yes, his ligament problem is a concern. It's not a common injury so it's a matter of seeing what the scan shows and what the outcome is. But it's not looking positive at the moment; we're certainly not holding our breath," the Ulster coach admitted.
Tellingly he added: "The problem that Ulster have had with long-term injuries this year may just have struck again. There's a possibility that we could have another player out until the end of the season."
With Wallace and Marshall sidelined, Stuart Olding – who turned 20 on Monday – is likely to wear number 12 at Murrayfield on Friday night.
Anscombe gave the highly promising utility back a huge endorsement by saying: "He has been doing a great job. He's progressing well and we're pleased with how he's coming along.
"So it's just a matter of managing with what we have and making sure that we get through. In a situation like this, others – our more experienced players – have to step up and lead some of these young guys through."
And one such player, 28-year-old Andrew Trimble, has just signed a two-year IRFU contract extension wedding himself to Ulster until the summer of 2015.
Since his senior debut against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park in September 2005, Trimble has gone on to make a further 154 appearances for Ulster in whose colours he has scored a record 50 tries, eight of them this season.
He has also scored 11 tries in 49 international outings for Ireland.
David Humphreys, Ulster's Director of Rugby, said: "I am delighted that Andrew has signed a new national contract as he is, without doubt, a world-class finisher and a hugely important member of our squad.
"He has now spent almost eight years at Ulster Rugby and this deal will take him to a decade at Ravenhill. That reflects both his remarkable consistency of performance and his unwavering commitment to his province."
Meanwhile, France's Romain Poite will referee Ulster's Heineken Cup quarter-final date with Saracens.
In naming the men in the middle for the four quarter-finals – ASM Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier, Harlequins v Munster and Toulon v Leicester Tigers are the others – ERC match official performance manager Donal Courtney said: "We will be asking the match officials to continue to focus on key areas of the game in order to allow a contest for the ball by both teams and to give the ball-carrying team the space to play within the laws.
"The officials will be reminded to effectively manage all aspects of the scrum, as well as tackle and ruck situations, in particular where players wilfully go off their feet to prevent a fair contest for the ball.
"They will also be asked to be strict on issues of foul play, especially dangerous tackles, and to be vigilant for lineout maul obstruction and for players going offside from kicks."