IRELAND'S hopes of a much-needed win against South Africa this weekend have suffered a severe blow after Paul O'Connell was ruled out through injury.
The inspirational second row has missed much of the opening period of the season with knee trouble. But he also suffered a back injury in training this week according to a statement from the IRFU.
The union’s statement added that the Munster man, “took a full part in the squad sessions on Monday and Tuesday, but suffered a reaction and will not be fit for selection for this weekend’s game.”
There remains some hope that Ireland’s vice-captain will be available again for the visit of Argentina later this month. O’Connell will consult a specialist on the problem this week before the IRFU release a further update.
"Paul will see a specialist in the coming days and an update will be issued in due course," the union said.
In addition, Stephen Ferris is struggling with an ankle injury and at best will feature only in the final game against Argentina.
The absence of O'Connell, Lions captain in South Africa three years ago, has left a leadership vacuum for the Springbok Test with O'Driscoll and Best already in the treatment room.
Only yesterday Ireland's management had revealed their expectation that O'Connell would recover from his back problem, but now they being forced to delve even deeper into their playing resources.