Second-row injuries worry Wales
Wales have been engulfed by a second-row injury crisis less than three weeks before launching their RBS 6 Nations title defence.
Interim head coach Rob Howley is due to name his Six Nations squad on Tuesday, but the lock department has been decimated. Alun-Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris, Bradley Davies and Ian Evans are all currently injured, while former Wales captain Ryan Jones - a potential second-row starter against Ireland on February 2 - has now joined them.
Jones, who has played Test rugby at number eight, flanker and lock, went to hospital in Swansea on Sunday night after suffering a suspected dislocated thumb during the Ospreys' 15-15 Heineken Cup draw against Liberty Stadium visitors Leicester.
"Ryan has gone off to hospital," Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said. "I think he has got a dislocation of his thumb. It may have popped through the skin as well."
Alun-Wyn Jones is not expected back in action until late February or early March after undergoing shoulder surgery. He was injured in Wales' autumn Test defeat to Argentina two months ago.
Perpignan forward Charteris is out for the season with knee ligament damage, while Cardiff Blues lock Davies faces an operation this week on an ankle problem. And Ospreys second-row Evans has not played since the autumn internationals because of a knee injury.
Howley's squad is likely to include Australia-born James King, who played his early rugby in north Wales with Mold, while his uncapped Ospreys colleague Lloyd Peers could also feature.
Howley's fresh injury worries are not restricted to the second-row, given that Ospreys hooker Richard Hibbard was forced off with what appeared to be a recurrence of shoulder trouble. Hibbard is currently the form hooker in Wales and a hot favourite to start against Ireland ahead of Scarlets pair Matthew Rees and Ken Owens.
"We have been patching him (Hibbard) up since he hurt the same shoulder playing for Wales against Samoa in November, if I am honest," Tandy said. "The way he goes about his business and turns up every week is just a ridiculous effort from the boy. We just had to take the kid off because he would have done himself harm otherwise."
Charteris, fly-half Rhys Priestland and prop Aaron Jarvis are confirmed long-term injury absentees, while Howley has also lost centre Ashley Beck (ankle) until late February. And star flanker Dan Lydiate, player of the tournament in last season's Six Nations, has not yet started his comeback from a serious ankle injury sustained three months ago.