Joe Schmidt and Matt O’Connor were coming to terms with two major headaches last night after key figures Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien were ruled out of action for the foreseeable future, with prop Healy possibly sidelined for the rest of the year.
While there are hopes that O’Brien could return in time for Leinster’s European Champions Cup campaign, which kicks off in mid-October, Healy will definitely miss those games and he is unlikely to be in a position to be rushed back in time for the November internationals.
Despite optimistic noises concerning O’Brien’s prognosis, after undergoing a scope on an ankle injury to remove a “loose body”, his poor injury profile in recent seasons may imperil his chances of featuring in November’s three games also, beginning with South Africa’s visit on November 8.
Healy incurred a “significant hamstring strain” during a training session on Wednesday, the severity of which has delayed a medical prognosis, and his provincial coach, Matt O’Connor, seemed less than confident when announcing a four-week lay-off.
Some reports yesterday even suggested that Healy may be a doubt for the Six Nations which, even given the Clontarf man’s ongoing injury issues last season, might seem a tad overblown.
“He’s seeking an opinion on a hamstring, he hurt it yesterday in training, it looked like a significant injury,” confirmed O’Connor, who at least suggested that second-choice loosehead Jack McGrath will return from his calf knock in time to face Munster next weekend.
“Sean had a scope on his ankle a couple of weeks ago,” continued O’Connor.
“It was a fairly minor procedure, there was a bit of floating matter in there that they’ve taken out. The medical team are pretty confident that the ankle will be fine in a couple of weeks.
“They create significant holes. But our experience over the course of the time shows that there are guys who can come in and take their place.
“We’re confident we can cope. It’s not going to be easy because they’re world-class players. You can never replace blokes at the very top end. We’ll try to adjust our game accordingly.”
Meanwhile, Ulster have signed 24-year-old lock Ronald Raaymakers from Counties Manukau Steelers on a short-term contract.
The Kiwi provides cover for the injured Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy and will provide an additional option alongside Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb and Franco van der Merwe.