Best bug puts Scannell on stand-by
NIALL SCANNELL is on stand-by make his Ireland debut from the start of today's Six Nations clash with Italy in Rome after Rory Best came down with a stomach bug on the eve of the game.
The skipper remained in isolation at the team hotel as Jamie Heaslip led yesterday's Captain's Run and a decision on his participation will be made this morning.
Ireland have flown Leinster hooker James Tracy to the Italian capital and he will come on to the bench if Best fails to make it, with Heaslip set to captain the side in the Ulsterman's absence.
Best came down with his illness on arrival from Dublin on Thursday evening and was too sick to travel to the Stadio Olimpico with his team-mates yesterday.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby remained upbeat on his prospects of being fit enough to play this afternoon, but he also expressed confident in Scannell's ability to cope if he is called on.
"Rory has been put into his own bedroom in a bit of isolation, he's fortunate that as captain that he does receive his own room," Easterby said.
"As far as we know it's not contagious and the doctor is covering everything off and making sure that we get to the bottom of it. But hopefully everything clears up in the next few hours and he can get some much needed rest.
"Niall has fitted in really well. Whenever you come into a new environment, sometimes it takes a little longer to adjust, and to integrate yourself. But he's fitted in really well.
"Niall potentially coming into that mix will be adding real value if Rory doesn't make it."
Today's clash at the Stadio Olimpico will be the first time Italy coach Conor O'Shea will face his home country and Italy captain Sergio Parise acknowledged it will be an emotional occasion for the former Ireland full-back.
"It's a special moment for him," the talismanic No 8 said. "His family, his friends, everyone is looking at him. But for him, he's really focusing on us as a team. It's a big challenge for him, but he's someone who believes in us.
"We got up for the game against Wales but it was disappointing in the second half, when we had no discipline and we gave Wales three points every time easily and let them have the game.
"For him, the focus is not because it's Ireland but because he wants a better performance for us. We know that Ireland, for me personally, is a better team than Wales, so it's going to be very difficult tomorrow."
INSIDE: SIX NATIONS SPECIAL: P2-5