Best to fly home after mystery health scare

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The Independent Online

Ireland's Simon Best is expected to fly home to Belfast today after specialists in France ruled out neurological problems as the cause of the symptoms that saw him admitted to hospital on Wednesday. The 29-year-old will undergo further medical tests, but doctors now believe that he has a cardiac problem.

There had been fears at one stage yesterday that the Ulster prop had suffered a minor stroke, but last night he was described as "comfortable " and all the earlier symptoms had cleared up.

"This is very positive news for Simon and we will all continue to monitor his progress carefully. The care he has received so far has been excellent and team doctor Gary O'Driscoll has been with him throughout this," said Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach.

Best, who had been named among the substitutes for Ireland's decisive World Cup game against Argentina on Sunday, was walking in Bordeaux city centre on Wednesday evening when he began feeling unwell. He called the team doctor and was taken back to the team hotel.

The prop developed a loss of sensation on his right side, as well as a headache and a difficulty in speaking, and was admitted to the Pellegrin Hospital in Bordeaux. He was immediately withdrawn from the squad. Best remained in hospital overnight and underwent a number of tests including an MRI scan and an angiogram.

The tests were repeated yesterday morning and the player was transferred to the Haut Levque Hospital, one of France's leading cardiological hospitals, for further investigation.

News of the popular player's illness – and a lack of a diagnosis – spread quickly among the camp, and O'Sullivan looked drawn and emotional during a press conference early yesterday afternoon.

"Yeah, we're all worried about Simon, obviously, he's a hugely popular guy in the squad. He has been around for a long time and he is one of these quiet-spoken guys who everybody loves," the coach said. "So it's a shock to everybody that this can happen.

"He was in downtown Bordeaux with his good friend Paddy Wallace, just strolling around the city centre, when he felt this coming on. He called the team doctor, Gary O'Driscoll, we got him back to our hotel immediately and then we moved him to the hospital straight away."

O'Sullivan also mentioned the difficulties faced by Simon's brother, Rory, who is in the Ireland squad too, and will be on the bench on Sunday. " He's a bit upset, obviously, with the news but he knows that Simon is in the best possible hands and that everything has been done for him," O'Sullivan said.

"We have named him on the bench for this weekend and while we did consider his brother Simon's condition when making that decision, Rory is an incredibly mentally tough individual and was adamant that he wanted to be considered for selection. We have no doubts that he will be ready if called upon."

Yesterday evening it emerged that doctors at Haut Levque had ruled out a neurological problem. They now believe that the symptoms are related to a cardiac issue, allaying concerns that Best had suffered a stroke, but an exact diagnosis has yet to be determined.

By that stage, his wife Katie was at his bedside, having arrived in Bordeaux yesterday afternoon. The couple married earlier this year.

"I think it was more that people were worried about what might happen rather than a big physical problem with Simon," an insider in the camp said last night. "Given the position he plays, you take no chances. Hopefully, the cardiac problem – if that's what it is – won't be a major issue."

The player remained in hospital last night.

Best, who has 23 caps, led Ireland's summer tour to Argentina and spent two seasons as the Ulster captain before Rory succeeded him as captain for this season. A regular for the province since 1999, Best was also part of the 2003 World Cup squad and has been a virtual ever-present in the Test squad since.

The Munster prop Tony Buckley has been called up to replace him, while Best's Ulster team-mate Bryan Young will fill the vacancy on the bench on Sunday.

Ireland must beat Argentina by at least seven points and score a minimum of four tries if they are to progress to the last eight.

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