Sam Warburton injury blow may open Lions door for Rory Best and Sean O'Brien
Sam Warburton is expected to be fit in time for the Lions tour of New Zealand, but his six-week lay-off could open doors for a number of Ireland hopefuls.
The Wales flanker is widely expected to be named as captain when Warren Gatland announces his squad in a week's time, but his latest injury setback places a question mark over his ability to lead the side.
After limping out of Friday night's draw with Ulster, the Cardiff Blues star is unlikely to play again for his region this season which would leave him chronically low on game-time going into the tour which gets under way in June.
With question marks over his fitness, Warren Gatland may choose an alternative captain with Ireland skipper Rory Best a leading alternative along with Alun Wyn Jones; while the door could open further for a fit and firing Seán O'Brien to make the plane.
Given the difficulty of the touring schedule, the New Zealander has said he will not select any players who are struggling for fitness and that will put pressure on the 2013 skipper who was stripped of the Welsh captaincy this season.
"Sam has a low grade medial (knee ligament) strain which will put him out for approximately six weeks," Cardiff coach Danny Wilson said. "It won't interfere with the Lions. If we were fortunate enough to make the second European play-off game (on the last weekend in May), we would envisage him being available for that.
"He shouldn't have any problems regarding the Lions. You see players who get back quickly if they follow protocol through religiously and get a bit of luck and I am sure that will be the case with Sam, knowing how diligent he will be.
"We will see then, all being well, how quickly he can get back. It was low-grade and that was the important bit. Sam is very experienced and a good pro. He knows his body and knows if he works hard to get that right, he will be back relatively quickly."