Bruising Euro battles leave provinces and Schmidt with selection crisis
Irish rugby has been left counting the cost of a bruising weekend of Heineken Cup quarter-final rugby.
Off the pitch, the IRFU are dealing with a loss of around €1.5m in prize money and rental revenue incurred as a result of Leinster and Ulster's European exits, which mean Dublin will not host a semi-final, while Ireland coach Joe Schmidt could be without two key men for the summer tour to Argentina.
Six Nations heroes Rory Best and Peter O'Mahony (above) are major doubts for the two-Test end-of-season excursion which Schmidt sees as pivotal to his World Cup 2015 plans.
Ulster hooker Best has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after suffering a "significant ankle sprain" during the first half of Saturday night's heartbreaking defeat to Saracens, while Munster captain O'Mahony underwent a scan yesterday and the injury to his left shoulder will be reviewed further this evening when he meets with a specialist.
O'Mahony was replaced after 19 minutes of Saturday's win over Toulouse after over-extending his left shoulder amidst fears of a dislocation that could require season-ending surgery.
It has also been revealed that try-scorer Casey Laulala sustained a broken bone in his right hand; he too will meet with the specialist today for a further update and he is likely to miss the meeting with Toulon on April 27 – for which Munster are set to be allocated around 15,000 tickets.
Ulster have been hit the hardest by the weekend's action, however, and they face an injury crisis ahead of this weekend's derby against Connacht.
Along with Best, Ruan Pienaar's season could be over after he aggravated his shoulder injury at Ravenhill, while Dan Tuohy and Roger Wilson have hand injuries that will keep them out for the rest of this month at least.
Ireland star Andrew Trimble suffered a concussion during the second half of the game against Saracens.
Trimble was shaken up after tackling Schalk Brits, but got back to his feet and stopped a certain try seconds later. All Black John Afoa is another who will miss the clash with Connacht after suffering a back injury.
Winger Fergus McFadden was the sole casualty of Leinster's battering at the hands of European champions Toulon, with the Kildare native suffering a knee injury that forced him off during the first half and is likely to keep him out of Friday's meeting with the Ospreys at least.
Meanwhile, retired international referee Jonathan Kaplan has criticised Jerome Garces' match-turning decision to send off Jared Payne in the fifth minute of Ulster's defeat to Saracens on Saturday.
The full-back – who will be anxiously awaiting news of the repercussions of the French official's decision – received a red card for his challenge on the airborne Alex Goode that left his opposite number concussed as he fell heavily.
"I respect the decision, I don't agree with it," the South African wrote.
"The game has always been about a contest and I don't believe that the clash was anything other than an accident; two players with their eyes on the ball competing for possession.
"At worst the action of Payne was reckless as he perhaps could have taken his eyes off the ball to see where his opponent was. But reckless, more often than not, is not equal to red. The salient point is that this was accidental. If you think it was premeditated or done by design, then the red card would be absolutely justified.
"I have looked at the incident again and again and, after careful consideration, feel a yellow card for a reckless challenge would have been a far better outcome in the micro sense, and for the game in general too."
In other news, Munster assistant coach Simon Mannix will join French ProD2 outfit Pau as a 'sporting director' from next season.