O'Brien injury casts shadow as Anscombe slams 'poor' Ulster
In one sickening minute on Saturday evening, there was more than just Sean O'Brien's immediate playing future in doubt.
For now Leinster's prospects of securing a home quarter-final may be more imperilled. So too Joe Schmidt's chances of ensuring a brisk beginning to his maiden Six Nations voyage.
The magnitude of O'Brien's absence will be keenly felt when confirmation arrives today as to the length of his recuperation.
It will also serve to focus the minds of those French clubs who may now begin to rethink the strategy of purchasing a player who has become increasingly hampered by injury.
The irony is that O'Brien's immense strength is more evident than at any time before resulting in chronic, intermittent weakness to his battered and bruised body.
This was, remember, an injury comeback that lasted just 52 minutes -- each and every one predictably explosive.
Is he in danger of earning the unwanted injury profile?
"Yeah, but we've all seen how he plays," says Matt O'Connor. "Blokes who carry the ball, who are hard over the ball are going to get busted and that's unfortunately the situation we are in."
In the context of the ongoing, overly-emotional debate about IRFU player welfare and the targeting of Irish players by French clubs, O'Brien's luckless fate reminds us that a player can get injured any time, anywhere.
It is rugby reality.
And another cruel irony on a night that an over-hyped interprovincial derby, already decimated by the swingeing requirements of the IRFU player welfare policy, saw a whole clutch of world-class talent sidelined despite some returning emigrants travelling thousands of miles to see them in action.
It was little surprise the match was a turkey and sports supporters deserved better than to be smacked in the face by seeing what could have been an evenly-matched contest grossly undermined.
While O'Connor was happier with the four points that returned his side to second place in the Pro12, ending a run of successive defeats, his counterpart Mark Anscombe was positively bristling with anger.
"We were lethargic, we lacked energy, we lacked purpose," said Anscombe, who revealed that Luke Marshall, one of many whose performances were well below par, suffered a dead leg.
"I don't think we had the ball in the first half. That happens in a game, it goes five minutes, 10 minutes, 15. If you have got some attitude about you and you want to compete, you'll get some ball.
"You don't get 40 minutes without the ball and be content with that. And we were. I take my hat off to them. They came here with intent and purpose and we didn't match that. We were bloody disappointing.
"You can come here and come away disappointed but it's how disappointed.
"You come here and expect to lose at times because they're a quality team. "You can handle defeat but it's the way that you are beaten that is sometimes disappointing and I thought we were pretty poor.
"That's disappointing. It's the festive season and you would like to think derby games are important to the players but you wouldn't have thought that was too important to the players tonight."
It seems fair to say the Kiwi was disappointed. O'Connor's face offered a geography of brighter emotions.
"The performance was very, very pleasing. We left some tries out there no doubt. At the same time, I thought we dominated pretty well and we were very good into the wind during the first half.
"It probably didn't reflect itself on the scoreboard. Jimmy Gopperth was unlucky with a couple of kicks and we left a couple of try-scoring chances behind us. But I was pretty comfortable at half-time. I thought we played well.
"Then we didn't play enough quality field position in the second half to squeeze them. It was a good result for us to get four and them to get nil. They're a good side so we have to look at Connacht this week and do as well again."