THE back three injury crisis has dominated the build-up to Ireland's Six Nations opener against Italy next weekend, but yesterday it was a case of the back-row blues as Stephen Ferris effectively ruled himself out of the trip to Rome, while the prospect of Jamie Heaslip being lured abroad next season raised its head once more.
Heaslip has already been ruled out of the Italy clash and, while there was welcome news that his ankle injury does not require surgery, he remains a major concern for the French clash the following weekend. Ferris has been nursing a knee injury and was unable to train with the Ireland squad in Limerick this week but it was hoped that he would be cleared to line out in the Stadio Flaminio.
However, yesterday evening Ferris confirmed that his chances of facing the Italians look increasingly unlikely to the point where he is now merely hoping "to catch some of the Six Nations".
"I know my own body and I know how long it takes for something like that to heal so I reckon it's probably going to be a bit longer than the two weeks suggested," said the Ulster flanker last night.
"For the Italy game I'm pretty doubtful, I'm up home in Ulster and getting treatment. I'll just have to take it day by day and hopefully I'll catch some of the Six Nations."
Fellow Ulster man Andrew Trimble has already been ruled out of the trip to Rome and says the France game could also arrive too soon as he recovers from a hand injury.
"I'm not going to make Italy and I don't know what's going to happen after that. The French game is a possibility but it's not that likely," said Trimble.
However, there was encouraging news on Rory Best as the Ulster hooker, who contracted a stomach bug as he recovered from a rib injury, was able to train yesterday and is expected to be available for selection for Italy.
Earlier in the day, Heaslip outlined his belief that the IRFU need to place a proper value on their top international stars and revealed that he has been approached by a Super 15 franchise as well as a host of other overseas suitors.
A move to the southern hemisphere to play Super 15 rugby would represent a massive lifestyle change for the 27-year-old, who has spent his entire professional career with Leinster, but Heaslip said it would be a challenge he would readily consider.
"I have been approached by a Super 15 team. It wouldn't deter me at all," said Heaslip, speaking on radio yesterday.
"It would be a massive change in lifestyle but so many people I know are going to the southern hemisphere to work or travel anyway. I have got offers from a lot of places.
"You have to look after your lifestyle outside of rugby. I am not the guy who is focused 100pc entirely on rugby. I switch off very easily.
"Money takes you so far. It is not the be-all and end-all," added the Leinster No 8, who also said there was an onus on the Irish union to attach a realistic value to their players if they wish to hold onto them.
"I am not saying you (the IRFU) have to match what is being offered elsewhere. But you have to value the player," added Heaslip.