Ireland examine full-back options
Ireland are examining their options at full-back after Rob Kearney was ruled out of the autumn series with a back problem.
Kearney will undergo surgery on an injury that has restricted him to just 32 minutes of rugby this season.
Earlier this week the 26-year-old had declared himself fit for next month's series against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina, but a specialist has since advised that an operation is necessary.
Head coach Declan Kidney revealed that surgery was viewed as a last resort.
"Rob's having surgery tomorrow so that will take him out for eight to 10 weeks, so we wish him a speedy recovery," Kidney said.
"We just learned yesterday that he was going to have the surgery.
"The medics will always do everything they can to avoid interventions to the body so they'll look at all other avenues of care first.
"They've been trying but with little success, so it was decided yesterday that we must cut our cloth here."
The loss of Kearney, the leading contender at full-back for the Lions against Australia next summer, is a major blow.
The reigning European player of the year has been one of Ireland's most reliable performers and is a key component in their back line.
Alternatives at 15 are limited with Luke Fitzgerald and Gavin Duffy injured, Felix Jones left out of the 31-man squad named for the autumn series today after recently returning from a spell in the treatment room and Geordan Murphy having retired from Test rugby.
Munster's Keith Earls is the most obvious choice to replace Kearney, although he is currently out with a groin problem, while Tommy Bowe is also an option.
Flanker Stephen Ferris and fly-half Ronan O'Gara feature among the 31 despite their recent struggle with respective back and hamstring injuries.
Centre Luke Marshall, back row Iain Henderson, prop David Kilcoyne and hooker Richardt Strauss are the four uncapped players included.
Strauss, born and raised in South Africa but uncapped by the Springboks, qualifies for Ireland on residency grounds this month having represented Leinster since 2009.
It was also announced that Munster assistant coach Anthony Foley has been added to Ireland's backroom team as part of a reshuffle.
Foley will oversee the defence, allowing Les Kiss to become attack and backs coach.
"We have three incredibly competitive games ahead of us and while there have been quite a few injuries and niggles in the early part of the season, it has opened up opportunities for other players," said Kidney.
"There are world ranking points on offer, so the underlying challenge for us is to work towards retaining and improving our ranking position ahead of the World Cup pool draw.
"While that is the end goal, our focus will be getting our preparations right to match the intensity of international games.
"I'm pleased that Anthony has taken up the offer of working with the squad to assist during this vital period in November.
"His previous experience of working with the team during the last RBS 6 Nations championship was important, but his own abilities and experience were central to bringing him onboard."