Ulster could go into the business end of their season in the RaboDirect PRO12 without British Lions hooker, Rory Best.
The Irish international suffered an ankle injury early in the 17-15 defeat to Saracens in Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at Ravenhill.
He was forced to retire after 12 minutes, and although the initial reaction was Best could be out for a couple of weeks, the News Letter understands he may have suffered an undisplaced fracture to the lower right leg.
Best will have to undergo a scan to determine the full extent of the injury, but if it is more serious than initially thought it will be another mjaor blow for the club after going out of Europe in the harshest of circumstances against the English Premiership side.
Ulster were forced to play most of the game with 14 men after fullback, Jared Payne, was shown a straight red card for a careless challenge on Saracens fullback Alex Goode after just four minutes.
Although initial reaction was that Payne should have been sin-binned at least, reviews of the incident and the application of the law on dangerous tackles would suggest French official, Jerome Graces made the correct call.
It had a major effect on the outcome of the game, although Ulster almost pulled off an amazing victory, battling right to the final second of the match.
Payne will face a disciplinary hearing, probably sometime this week, which will determine the amount of time he may be suspended.
Another key player, Ruan Pienaar, could also face a time on the sidelines after he suffered a recurrence of a shoulder injury which had kept him out for the last two PRO12 games.
With crucial games coming up in the PRO12 and last ear’s beaten finalists Ulster vying for a play-off position, their woes have been added to after the disappointment of missing out on a lucrative home semi-final in the Heineken Cup.
Of the injuries immediately after the match , Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe said: “Rory is in a moonboot now and could be out for a few weeks, Ruan has done his shoulder in again so that could be a couple of weeks as well.”