Loss of O'Connell magnifies Irish woe
Ireland's troubled Six Nations campaign faces fresh torment after it was announced that captain Paul O'Connell will play no further part.
O'Connell will miss the remaining two matches against Scotland and England after suffering ligament damage to his left knee in Sunday's 17-17 draw with France.
The inspirational 32-year-old, who had been in outstanding form, completed the match in Paris despite his injury and will be out for between three and four weeks.
And in a sickening double blow, scrum-half Conor Murray will also miss the rest of the tournament because of a knee injury.
Ireland have now lost two Lions' captains for their ill-fated 2012 Six Nations campaign, with Brian O'Driscoll unavailable after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Ulster hooker Rory Best is the favourite to lead the Irish against Scotland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, with the team set to be named tomorrow at lunchtime.
"Paul O'Connell underwent a scan on his left knee after twisting it during the game," a statement from the Irish Rugby Football Union said.
"The scan has shown that he has picked up an injury to his medial collateral ligament.
"The injury will also rule him out of the next two games with an expected three-to-six-week recovery period.
"Conor Murray was replaced in the 59th minute after falling awkwardly on his right knee and a scan has revealed bone bruising in the joint.
"But while there has been no significant damage done to his ligaments, the injury does rule him out of contention for the remaining two games of the championship with an expected three-to-four-week recovery period."
Munster scrum-half Tomás O'Leary and Connacht forward Mike McCarthy have been called up as cover for the pair.
Donnacha Ryan is in pole position to replace O'Connell at lock while Eoin Reddan will take Murray's place.
Losing both players is the latest setback to a campaign haunted by misfortune.
On the opening weekend, Wales won at Lansdowne Road with a last-minute penalty that a disciplinary hearing later admitted should not have been given. And on Sunday, Ireland endured an agonising draw after leading World Cup finalists France 17-6 at half-time.