Brian O'Driscoll remains among the favourites to captain the Lions next June, despite being told yesterday he will not be leading Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship.
Lions insiders believe O'Driscoll could still be captain on the tour to Australia next June if he proves his fitness in this season's championship, which starts in two weeks.
The 34-year-old has led Ireland in 83 games, during which the team won a Grand Slam in 2009, plus four Triple Crowns and another championship title.
Only South Africa hooker John Smit has matched the 83 games as a Test captain, though O'Driscoll heads the record books, having also led the Lions in one Test on the New Zealand tour in 2005.
However, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has focused on the next Rugby World Cup in 2015 in retaining No 8 Jamie Heaslip, who took up the captaincy for the autumn internationals when O'Driscoll had an ankle injury. O'Driscoll was named in a training squad yesterday and has been told to concentrate on regaining full fitness. He is expected to play for Leinster at Exeter tomorrow, despite hurting his other ankle last weekend.
He might play for Ireland's reserve team next Friday, agains t the England Saxons, in order to be fit for the first Six Nations match, against Wales in Cardiff on February 2.
Kidney said he had made a very difficult decision and not one he expected O'Driscoll to agree with. 'Sometimes as a coach that's what your job is, to make the calls you feel are at the right time for the player, even though the player might not agree with you,' he said. 'That's basically the job, but it is very tough.'
O'Driscoll was disappointed but understood. 'When I talked it through with Declan I accepted the reasons behind the decision. 'I've always known 2015 was likely a bridge too far for me, so at some point a player who will most likely be there needs to build that captaincy experience. Jamie will do a fantastic job and I will be giving him all of the support he needs.'
O'Driscoll's colleague Ronan O'Gara will miss Munster's final pool match in the Heineken Cup, against Racing Metro in Limerick on Sunday. He has been banned for one week after he was cited for kicking Edinburgh lock Sean Cox last Sunday.
A disciplinary panel was lenient after hearing evidence that O'Gara had been bodychecked by Cox.
Racing Metro will be without centre Fabrice Estebanez, banned for a month after being was cited for a dangerous tackle on Saracens' David Strettle last Saturday.