Iain Henderson is set to miss the most of the Six Nations Championship with Ireland having undergone a hand operation.
The Ulster star underwent surgery to a thumb operation on Monday.
He is expected to be out for up to 12 weeks which means as well as the Six Nations Championship, Henderson will miss the last two group games in Ulster’s European Champions Cup campaign.
That is a massive blow for the Province after they had put themselves in a great opportunity to press on and make the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.
Henderson impressed in the two games against Scarlets in Pool Four over the past fortnight, scoring two tries in the 30-15 win over the Welsh region on Friday night in Belfast.
Ulster’s woes were addeed to further when the club confirmed later that Matty Rea would also be unavailable for up to 10 weeks, having also had surgery to a hand injury.
Rea sustained a thumb fracture playing for Ballymena in their All Ireland League Divisoin 1B win over Buccaneers on Saturday.