IRELAND coach Declan Kidney is resigned to being without Geordan Murphy for the start of the Six Nations after the full-back was injured in Leicester's win over Northampton last weekend.
The Tigers captain was stretchered off towards the end of the match and is believed to have damaged ligaments in his ankle, with medical updates expected today.
"I haven't had the chance to talk to him," said Kidney yesterday. "I know he's scheduled to see the specialist and we'll see how it goes, but it wouldn't look good for Italy anyway.
"That's the way it is in Irish rugby, you try and build a squad so you can carry the injuries then all of a sudden you lose two or three. Felix Jones is out since the start of the season, Gavin Duffy has been out for the last three weeks, but I think he's hoping to get back in the next fortnight.
"But it means there are openings for guys; we'll see how the next two weeks go."
With Rob Kearney on the long-term injured list, it creates the possibility of Luke Fitzgerald starting at No 15, following his encouraging return in that position during Leinster's win over the Ospreys last weekend.
Ideally for Kidney, Fitzgerald would be at full-back when Leinster take on Saracens in their Heineken Cup clash on Saturday, but he faces stiff competition from Isa Nacewa, who has excelled in the position this season, with Fergus McFadden and Shane Horgan also in fine form on the wings.
Similarly, the Ireland coach would be best suited by Paul O'Connell being named in the Munster second-row for their trip to Toulon after serving his four-week suspension but, while Kidney alluded to the good communication channels he has with the provincial coaches, he accepted that the selection responsibility this weekend is out of his hands.
"I would have huge faith in what happens in the provinces and because of that I would stand back totally," said Kidney, who names his 30-man Ireland senior squad and 22-man Ireland 'A' panel next week ahead of their pre-Six Nations training camp.
"You want the provinces doing well. If they are picking who's right for them, that gives them the best chance of doing well and by the provinces doing well it will feed into the atmosphere of the camp when we come together in two weeks' time.
"These games are hugely important and Munster will make their decision (on O'Connell). I've learned in this game long enough. People ask me 'what would you do?' and I'll just see who turns up for work in a fortnight's time -- some things you can control, others you can't control.
"Munster must make the right decision for Munster and let's see what happens."