Ireland captain-in-waiting Best major doubt for showdown with Scots
IRELAND have been rocked by the news that prospective stand-in captain Rory Best is a major doubt for Saturday's Six Nations clash with Scotland.
The Ulster hooker, set to become Ireland's third captain this season after injuries to Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell, damaged ribs during Sunday's draw against France at the Stade de France.
Yesterday, Keith Earls (groin), Donncha O'Callaghan (ankle) and Sean O'Brien (foot) were ruled out of Ireland's training session and the trio may not be able to train until Friday.
O'Connell and Conor Murray were ruled out on Monday after sustaining championship-ending injuries in Paris, leaving Ireland's thin resources at breaking point ahead of their final two games of a hitherto disappointing campaign.
Ireland refused to confirm that Best would captain the side when they held a press briefing yesterday, so there is clearly some anxiety that the Ulster man may not make it to the starting blocks.
On a positive note, Best suffered a shoulder injury during the World Cup which had seemed certain to rule him out of the quarter-final against Wales, but he recovered in time to play.
Head coach Declan Kidney will be praying that he can make a similarly miraculous recovery this week and he is likely to be named in the team with a view to being allowed time to prove his fitness by Friday's captain's run.
O'Connell and Murray visited specialists last night. O'Connell is likely to be out for four to six weeks with his medial ligament injury, but Murray has suffered no long-term damage to his knee, save for some extensive bone bruising.
"We will still be announcing the team tomorrow at lunchtime, unless something dramatic happens," said kicking coach Mark Tainton at yesterday's briefing.
"We're only going to have one major training session this week, but it's not as if we're going to miss out. The squad has been together for six or seven weeks at this stage."
After being released early from his Ospreys contract, Tommy Bowe yesterday confirmed that he will be returning home to play for Ulster from next season, signing a three-year deal believed to be worth at least stg£1m.