Ulster were dealt another injury blow with talismanic captain Rory Best ruled out of Sunday’s crucial European Champions Cup pool one match against Harelquins.
Ireland’s most capped hooker had been set to lead the side out at The Stoop for the first of the back to back Euro ties against the Aviva Premiership side.
But a foot infection has sidelined the experienced player - adding to Ulster’s injury woes ahead of what are crunch back to back games in rounds three and four of the Champions Cup.
There had been no indications earlier this week that Best had been in doubt.
He spoke enthusiastically about this weekend’s game at the weekly pre-match Media Session.
However, on Friday morning it appears a cut on his foot had turned bad, ruling him out hours before the team annoucement was due.
It is a massive blow for Ulster to lose such an experienced player - Best has over 200 appearances with the Province and 100 with Ireland.
He led Ireland to a clean sweep of victories in last month’s Guinness Test series against South Africa and Argentina - being rested for the middle game against Fiji - and he came off the bench last weekend in Ulster’s 32-32 draw with Dragons at Newport in the Guinness PRO14.
Director of rugby, Les Kiss, said: “It is unfortunate he was fine early in the week.
“He had a slight cut on his ankle but that has become very bad and he is just not going to be able to get on that foot this weekend and we have had to rule him out today.”
Rob Herring, who was Best’s understudy against South Africa and started agaisnt Fiji for Ireland comes into the starting line-up and John Andrew is named on the bench.
The captaincy will be taken by Iain Henderson, one of two other Irish internationls returning to the fold - winger Jacob Stockdale the other.
“Iain likes the challenge and responsibility that goes with taking the captaincy,” added Kiss.