Andrew Trimble could miss Ulster’s key games in the run-in for the battle to secure a top four place in the Guinness PRO12 having undergone surgery on a hand injury.
The Irish winger broke a bone in his hand during Ulster’s 19-7 PRO12 win over Benetton Treviso on Friday night in Belfast.
Yesterday, director of rugby Les Kiss confirmed Trimble had undergone surgery and would be out for between four to six weeks.
At the worst Trimble could miss four of Ulster’s six remaining games, including crunch clashes with fellow title chasing sides Ospreys and Munster.
Ulster are due to face Zebre on Saturday night at Kingspan Stadium when a fifth straight win would see them propelled into fourth place in the PRO12 and put them in a strong position to state their case to make the end of season play-offs.
Trimble had been due to join the National squad on Monday and was expected to be involved in the RBS 6 Nations match with Wales in Cardiff on Friday night.
The three-quarter even spoke about looking forward to heading down to Dublin again ahead of that game shortly after the win over Treviso.
However, on Sunday morning came the shock news that Trimble had broken his hand and would miss the climax to this season’s Six Nations championships.
Confirming the operation on Monday, Kiss said the injury only transpired on Saturday after Trimble’s hand had swollen up.
“The surgery was required. It was a simple procedure, we are hoping it will be four weeks.
“He will be able to run tomorrow it is just a matter of keeping the wound dry.”
He added: “ I feel for him because he has had a few little setbacks recently. But he got some game time and was starting to look good and get his rhythm back.
“It is a blow for him without a doubt.”
After a week’s break following the rearranged game against Zebre on Saturday, Ulster are due to play Newport Gwent Dragons and Cardiff Blues, before taking on the current top three in the league standings, Munster, Ospreys and Leinster.