Rory Best battling stomach bug before Ireland's Roman rumble
CAPTAIN Rory Best must shake off a stomach bug if he is to face Italy in Rome in today's RBS 6 Nations showdown.
Hooker Best missed Ireland's captain's run at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday, instead remaining at the team hotel in a bid to beat his illness.
Munster's uncapped hooker Niall Scannell would start should Best fail to recover, with Leinster's James Tracy likely to fly out to join the squad as cover.
Ireland remain confident Best will be fit to start, and could leave a decision on their skipper's fitness until this morning.
"Rory has had a bit of a stomach upset overnight, he didn't sleep particularly well," said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby.
"So we've left him to rest. You can't predict that, but we've left him back in the hotel when we did the team run.
"Hopefully he'll be okay with a bit of sleep and rest now.
"James Tracy will be joining the squad now.
"I think there's always things that crop up in the course of the week that you have to deal with.
"How we react and respond to it will hopefully allow us to continue the preparation as seamlessly as possible.
"We're confident that he will recover in time for tomorrow."
Ireland may now have to hunt their first Six Nations win of the campaign without their 101-cap skipper.
Joe Schmidt's men lost out 27-22 in Scotland last weekend, and only victory in Rome will keep their slim title chances alive.
Vice captain Jamie Heaslip would take the armband in Best's absence, but Ireland are clearly giving the 34-year-old every chance of recovering.
Ireland entered the Six Nations without 56-cap hooker Sean Cronin - the experienced Leinster man was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring problem.
That has opened the door for the uncapped Scannell to step up, and the 24-year-old from Munster remained an unused replacement in Scotland.
Leinster hooker Tracy made a try-scoring Test debut in Ireland's 52-21 victory over Canada in Dublin in November.
The 25-year-old was initially overlooked for selection for Ireland's Azzurri clash, but was later omitted from the Leinster squad to face Treviso in Italy tomorrow.
"Niall Scannell would start if Rory doesn't recover - he's been with us longer than James this week," said Easterby.
"If Rory doesn't come through then James Tracy would have come across either tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on when he can get a flight.
"We're really confident that Niall can step up if asked.
"He wouldn't be in the squad if we didn't feel confident he can transfer some really good form from Munster, especially in the European Cup.
"And that's the reason he's on the bench, and that's because he's stepped up over the last few months.
"All the players in the squad have to prepare to start in any game."