JONATHAN Sexton is the new favourite to lead out Ireland against South Africa tomorrow week.
The Leinster out-half and his provincial team-mate Jamie Heaslip are the two front-runners to assume the captaincy as it looks increasingly likely Paul O'Connell will be allowed to focus on getting back to full fitness.
Having lost Brian O'Driscoll and Rory Best to injury, and with O'Connell again sitting out training yesterday with a back injury, it seems certain that there will be a new skipper for the visit of the Springboks -- and Declan Kidney admitted he has someone in mind.
According to Kidney, the team's new captain must command the respect of the rest of the squad. And while the Ireland coach refused to reveal who he has earmarked for the role, he did say that it would not be a prerequisite to have previously captained a province -- a comment that many will interpret as opening the door for Sexton's possible promotion.
"I think what you always want is a player that the other players will respect, on and off the pitch," Kidney said.
"A player that they will listen to, that has a good tactical appreciation of what's needed out on the pitch. Usually the captain has to have a relationship with the referee. So there's quite a number of things.
"It's easy to just announce somebody, to ask a guy to carry it. I rarely go up to a guy and say, 'will you just captain the side?' because it is another load on him and first and foremost you want to make sure that he's comfortable with it. We've a few lads that could step in."
Kidney indicated that Keith Earls would be the man to fill O'Driscoll's No 13 jersey next week, while he left the door open for Felix Jones to force his way into contention for the full-back berth, left vacant by Rob Kearney's back surgery, with a strong performance for Munster against Cardiff Blues tonight.
The coach will be hoping that his team-mate Ronan O'Gara and Ulster's Stephen Ferris can come through their Pro12 run-outs tonight unscathed, while Cian Healy again sat out training yesterday with a shoulder problem.
Centre Gordon D'Arcy underlined the task at hand for his Ireland colleagues yesterday, saying: "We have got to win these three games."