Ireland will have to plan without the services of Grand Slam winner Rory Best for at least a year after it was revealed that the Ulster star has been forced to undergo surgery on a neck injury.

Best will miss Ulster’s Heineken Cup and Magners League campaign as well as the autumn internationals and the defense of the Six Nations crown with Ireland.

Ulster’s director of rugby David Humphreys revealed, “Obviously losing Rory at the start of the season is a huge blow for us, not only is he our number one hooker but also our captain and one of the most experienced players in the squad.

“However, what is most important is Rory’s long term health and welfare and there’s no reason not to expect him to return fully to rugby, post surgery and rehabilitation, next season.

“The timing of this injury presents difficulties as most players are contracted for the 09-10 season. While we strengthened our hooking options this summer with the signing of Andy Kyriacou, we are working at present to find a replacement for Rory within world rugby.”

In other rugby news, Heineken Cup champions Leinster have appointed former Ireland prop Reggie Corrigan as their new scrum coach.