Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of Ireland's opening Six Nations game after breaking his right hand.

He picked up the injury during Ulster's most recent outing in the Heineken Cup against Aironi last weekend. The versatile back has a broken metacarpal in his right hand.

He is definitely ruled out for the opening game against Italy but his status will be week to week from then on.

Significantly, Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris, two crucial pieces of Declan Kidney's plans, will undergo MRI scans due to knee problems. The nature of the injuries are unclear but an update is expected within 24 hours.

Trimble will be heartbroken as Ireland's injuries in the backline were likely to present him with a chance to reclaim a starting position for his country, a chance that will likely now be afforded to Munster man Keith Earls.