Scotland's interim head coach, Scott Johnson, has been hit with a second major blow after it was confirmed that Nick de Luca could miss most of the Six Nations. The Edinburgh centre faces around two months on the sidelines after he undergoes surgery to repair a fractured eye socket.
Johnson has already lost the services of the record-breaking scrum-half Mike Blair after he decided to retire from the international game earlier this week.
The Australian former Wales head coach must now decide who will take over from the 85-times capped No 9 as well as searching for a replacement for De Luca, who has been a mainstay of the international side since winning his first cap five years ago, before naming his Six Nations training squad on Monday.
De Luca, who has 38 caps, sustained the injury while training with Edinburgh last month but club medics had to wait before they could confirm the length of his recovery time.
A statement from his club read: "Edinburgh Rugby confirmed that Nick de Luca will be unavailable for selection for around two months, following an operation to a fractured eye socket. It was deemed that the operation would be the best course of action to support the quickest return to playing."
Scotland kick off their Six Nations campaign on 2 February away to England, and the SRU yesterday declined to comment on the absence of De Luca, who may still be out of action by the time Scotland conclude their fixtures with a trip to Paris to face France on 16 March.
His club side will also have to do without their influential Dumfries-born back as they face Munster in the Heineken Cup tomorrow. The Murrayfield outfit will go with Ben Cairns and Matt Scott in midfield as they look to pick up their first pool points of this season's tournament following four painful defeats.
Last year's semi-finalists have had a season to forget so far, but head coach Michael Bradley hopes to finally give his team's supporters something to cheer about.
He said: "This is our final home match in this competition and we would like to acknowledge the support the fans have given us over the last couple of weeks with a big performance.
"We would take a lot of confidence from getting a win against Munster in this match and putting pressure on them in terms of quarter-final qualification. They haven't won away in this competition yet and will understand the importance of that to their chances of qualification, which makes them very dangerous."
Meanwhile, the powers of video referees in rugby are set to be extended as part of new protocols to be trialled globally by the International Rugby Board this year.
The Test match official, referred to as the TMO, will be able to advise the on-field referee about incidents of potential foul play and also review up to two phases of play before a try is scored. Currently, the TMO can be asked to rule only on incidents "in goal" – or over the tryline.
The IRB said yesterday it has approved the trial of both extended protocols in international and domestic competition from the beginning of the next respective season in the northern and southern hemispheres. They could be ratified by the IRB council in May 2014.
"Rugby continues to evolve and innovate and there is no doubt that rugby referees have one of the toughest officiating roles in sport," IRB chairman, Bernard Lapasset, said. "We are committed to ensuring that they have all the tools they require from conditioning, management and technology to ensure that they can perform to the highest possible standards."
Initial trials were held in the English Premiership and South Africa's Currie Cup and were deemed "highly successful", according to the IRB, whose aim is to eradicate obvious infringements in the build-up to tries as well as clear incidents of foul play.
However, Graham Mourie, the IRB rugby committee chairman, said: "It is now important that we educate our match officials to ensure excessive recourse to the TMO must be avoided for the sake of continuity."
New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore's blatant punch on Wales lock Bradley Davies in the first minute of the All Blacks' 33-10 win in Cardiff in November was an example of the kind of incident that could have been ruled on by a TMO, had he the power to act.
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