Brian O'Driscoll, the Ireland captain, was yesterday ruled out of tomorrow's Six Nations match against France at Croke Park.
He was joined on the sidelines by the scrum-half Peter Stringer, who has a fractured hand. O'Driscoll's enforced absence with a hamstring problem is a particularly severe blow. The Irish management wanted to give their talismanic centre another 24 hours to prove his fitness.
"The team doctor, Gary O'Driscoll, spent 40 minutes with Brian and took him through a very rigorous session," said Ireland's coach, Eddie O'Sullivan. "Evidently, at the end of the session Brian just felt the hamstring was tight. But it was a tough decision.
"There was probably more emotion involved in this decision than normal because [the match] is here at Croke Park. But from a practical point of view it wasn't a hard decision.
"If Brian were to re-injure his hamstring the odds are that it would be a very much worse tear, which could put him out for the rest of the Six Nations. There's another three games and we'll need them back for those."
So Ireland step into their country's sporting history without the man for whom the first international rugby match at the Gaelic Athletic Association's home would mean that little bit more.
It is the second time that O'Driscoll, a GAA fan who was brought up on the north side of Dublin, not far from "Croker", has missed out on appearing at the stadium. He had to leave his primary school earlier than most pupils, in order to attend Blackrock College. After he left, his old school's Gaelic football team won through to the All Ireland final. O'Driscoll would have played.
As it is, he and Stringer must watch the match unfold from the stands. "We have prepared for this game on the basis that we wouldn't have them," said O'Sullivan, "so there has not been any disruption. We practised all week without them. They have not had any involvement in any preparations."
O'Driscoll's Leinster team-mate, Shane Horgan, moves to inside centre with D'Arcy outside him and Leicester's Geordan Murphy starts on the right wing. Ulster's Isaac Boss is at scrum-half and the lock Paul O'Connell is captain.
"Of course it is going to have an impact on us," said O'Sullivan. "It would be foolish to think otherwise. It does change the midfield dynamics. Shane is a very different player, but it does not change our game plan dramatically. It is not the end of the world. You can make something like the loss of Brian work to your advantage. It is a target for them to win without Brian and Peter. And if they do win on Sunday they will be a better team."
France regard this match as the one which could settle the title, and possibly set up the winners for a Grand Slam. Their record in Dublin is impressive. Two years ago, the visitors won 26-19. Ireland beat France in the two previous Dublin encounters, but prior to that France won seven on the trot in the wake of a 15-15 draw in 1985.
Whether there will be a Gallic triumph at the home of Gaelic sport rests largely on the forward battle. The Irish pack are no mugs but they will be hard-pressed by the French eight at line-outs and at the scrum.
The France coach, Bernard Laporte, who has made five changes to the side that beat Italy 39-3 in Rome, said: "The Irish public really get behind their team. In France, at the moment, it is completely the opposite."
This match, its venue lying at the heart of everything sporting in Ireland, has the potential to lift the men in green, despite their cruel double loss.
It might even have been worse, had the No 8 Denis Leamy not recovered from the abscess he suffered at the beginning of the week to take his place in the side.
But if France hit the ground running, every Irishman present will have to shout himself hoarse, rendering the imposing ground "Croak" Park, if the Gaelic magic is to prevail.
Croke Park teams
15 G Dempsey (Leinster)
14 G Murphy (Leicester)
13 G D'Arcy (Leinster)
12 S Horgan (Leinster)
11 D Hickie (Leinster)
10 R O'Gara (Ireland)
9 I Boss (Ulster)
1 M Horan (Munster)
2 R Best (Ulster)
3 J Hayes (Munster)
4 D O'Callaghan (Munster)
5 P O'Connell (M'ster, capt)
6 S Easterby (Scarlets)
7 D Wallace (Munster)
8 D Leamy (Munster)
Replacements: J Flannery (Munster); S Best (Ulster); N Best (Ulster); M O'Driscoll (Munster); E Reddan (Wasps); P Wallace (Ulster); A Trimble (Ulster).
15 C Poitrenaud (Toulouse)
14 V Clerc (Toulouse)
13 D Marty (Perpignan)
12 Y Jauzion (Toulouse)
11 C Dominici (St Français)
10 D Skrela (Stade Français)
9 P Mignoni (Clermont)
1 S Marconnet (St Français)
2 R Ibañez (Wasps, capt)
3 P de Villiers (St Français)
4 L Nallet (Castres)
5 P Papé (Castres)
6 S Betsen (Biarritz)
7 I Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
8 S Chabal (Sale)
Replacements: S Bruno (Sale); O Milloud (Bourgoin); J Thion (Biarritz); J Bonnaire (Bourgoin); D Yachvili (Biarritz); L Beauxis (Stade Français); C Heymans (Toulouse).
Referee: S Walsh (New Zealand)
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