DECLAN KIDNEY could turn to Jamie Heaslip or Jonathan Sexton to lead Ireland against South Africa after suffering a double injury blow. Captain Brian O'Driscoll and vice-captain Rory Best have both been ruled out of the November internationals.
The skipper faces up to 12 weeks on the sidelines as he requires surgery on an ankle injury, while the Ulster hooker has a neck ligament injury.
Paul O'Connell would normally be the automatic choice to take the armband for the South Africa game on Saturday week, but the second-row is still struggling with a back injury, and Kidney admitted that burdening him with leadership could be too much.
That opens the door for a new captain, with Leinster pair Heaslip and Sexton the leading candidates.
O'Driscoll will undergo surgery on his damaged ankle ligaments today after a scan and meeting with a consultant revealed the injury he suffered against Cardiff Blues last Saturday was far more serious than first thought.
He now faces a race to be fit for the last two rounds of the Heineken Cup pool stages and the Six Nations -- he seems certain to miss Leinster's back-to-back pool games against Clermont Auvergne in December.
Best, who injured his neck in Ulster's win over the Dragons on Friday, didn't travel to Ireland's camp in Maynooth as scheduled on Sunday, and it was confirmed he would miss the series as a result of sprained ligaments.
Best's injury means naturalised South African Richardt Strauss looks set to make his debut against his native country on November 10.
"It is a big blow to be down the two lads who have been captaining the side, along with Paul, over the last couple of years," Kidney said.
"Brian is frustrated. Everybody likes putting on a green jersey, but nobody more than Brian. We will miss him, we missed him during the Six Nations.
"That makes it all the more precious when he is around.
"Paul isn't training today and has his own niggles with his back. He was hoping to get some pitch time this weekend and that is not right for him too. Captain can be an onerous position, we'll let him recover first and see what's best for the person too."
Kidney also defended his decision to parachute New Zealander Michael Bent into the Ireland squad on the day he first touched down in the country.
"It is our job to assemble the best, Irish-qualified bunch together," he said. "With the amount of gametime our tighthead props have got so far this season, Michael is probably one of the most qualified in terms of being match fit."