IRELAND are resigned to embarking on their daunting summer tour of New Zealand and Australia without the talismanic presence of Paul O'Connell as injuries threaten to dismantle Declan Kidney's southern expedition.
The Ireland coach has visited the Munster second-row at hospital in Cork and, though O'Connell is understandably keen to travel, he is facing a summer's recuperation from surgery on the groin injury that has ruled him out of action since Ireland's final Six Nations match on March 20.
It is a serious blow to Ireland's designs on securing a first away win over one of the southern hemisphere's big three since 1979 (Australia) and is compounded by the long-term injury to Munster team-mate Donnacha Ryan.
Leo Cullen was the third second-row used with O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan during the Six Nations and an update is expected today on the shoulder injury the Leinster captain sustained against Edinburgh.
Cullen is understood to have sustained a 'stinger', which should not rule him out of Saturday's Magners League semi-final with Munster, but doubts remain over the availability of Munster and Ireland centre Keith Earls who, like O'Connell, has a groin injury.
Ronan O'Gara has been filling in as Munster captain in O'Connell's absence and the out-half sees the Leinster clash as a chance for Munster to put their Heineken Cup disappointments behind them.
"We've had plenty of disappointments but we have proved that we will fight right to the end," he said.
"I'm not going to lie and deny that Heineken Cup finals are something special.
"But we now have the chance to salvage something from the season and it's going to be a great semi-final against Leinster."