IRELAND are on course for a showdown with Six Nations disciplinary chiefs by appealing the ban handed down to prop Cian Healy in an attempt to spring him into action for the clash against France in nine days' time.
But the plan could backfire as any appeal carries with it the threat of the disciplinary committee extending the ban, which could mean Healy missing out on the rest of the championship.
Healy was originally banned for stamping on England's Dan Cole at the Aviva Stadium, but a suspension of three weeks was effectively extended to four to ensure he would miss three competitive games.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney attempted to argue at the initial hearing that Healy could have played for Leinster last weekend, potentially freeing up the player for the French game, but Six Nations officials cried foul and dismissed the coach's contention.
However, the IRFU, who failed to provide specialist legal representation at the initial hearing, will now once more attempt to free Healy on the grounds that the three-week period should apply.
"The IRFU have formally appealed against the decision of the independent disciplinary committee to impose a three-week playing suspension for an infringement of Law 10.4(b) (stamping or trampling) on Cian Healy in the match between Ireland and England," said a Six Nations statement.
"The appeal relates to, among other things, the specific period covered by the three-week playing suspension."
Meanwhile, Stephen Ferris' hopes of playing again this season and thus making the Lions tour to Australia once more hang in the balance after his recovery from an ankle problem was dealt another crushing blow.
With the potential for more surgery to come on his damaged ankle tendon, Ulster confirmed the latest setback to the 27-year-old's rehabilitation.
"Some minor issues remain," a statement said. "As a result, the specialist medical staff treating Stephen are considering several options to ensure that he makes a full and complete return to play. A decision on a course of action will be made in the coming weeks."