Andy Farrell says Ireland are “devastated” to have lost veteran prop Cian Healy to injury ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France.
Healy has been left out of his country’s 33-man squad and is facing up to 10 weeks on the sidelines due to a calf issue sustained in Saturday evening’s 17-13 warm-up win over Samoa.
The 35-year-old – Ireland’s third most-capped player with 125 appearances – was helped off the pitch by medical staff in Bayonne and was later pictured on crutches.
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Munster loosehead Jeremy Loughman will fill the void, with head coach Farrell holding faint hope of Healy possibly being fit to feature in the latter stages of the tournament.
“He’s just had a scan as we got off the plane and he’ll be out for a spell of time that won’t be right, unfortunately, for Cian and for us, certainly for the start of the competition,” said Farrell, speaking in Dublin.
“We’ll see how his rehab goes during it, you’d never know towards the back end if he could be a replacement or not.
“It’s devastating, isn’t it? That’s sport, that’s life, that’s rugby. Cian’s big enough and old enough and experienced enough to be through these type of things before.
“I remember in 2013 on the Lions (tour) he got injured early and had to fly home. He’s experienced something like this and understands that these things happen. He’s devastated as we are for him.
“The prognosis is something between five, six to 10 weeks. How that rehab carries on is something that we’ll keep a track of as we go.”
Healy’s absence was the headline news from Farrell’s selection, but was hardly a shock given he was still hobbling when boarding the plane to return to Dublin from Biarritz earlier on Sunday.
Captain Johnny Sexton says his Leinster team-mate will be missed.
“I only just found out literally five minutes ago,” said Sexton. “He has been through ups and downs in his career, he’s a very, very decorated player, a great player. We’re going to miss him.
“I’m gutted for him to miss this tournament. It has meant a lot to him in how he has prepared for it and how he has trained.”
Ulster pair Jacob Stockdale and Tom Stewart, Connacht back-rower Cian Prendergast, Leinster fly-half Ciaran Frawley and uncapped Munster hooker Diarmuid Barron also failed to make the cut.
But Dan Sheehan, Ronan Kelleher, Jack Conan, Dave Kilcoyne and Keith Earls have been picked, despite recent injury issues, with Farrell opting for a 18-15 split of forwards and backs.
Ireland begin their campaign on September 9 against Romania in Bordeaux and also face Tonga, world champions South Africa and Scotland in Pool B.
“It’s obviously difficult because you’re shattering somebody’s dream, but I would hope that through all campaigns you don’t let bad news become a shock,” Farrell said of cutting down his squad.
“We think we have an extremely gifted squad and I also feel the balance is right.
“We’re the lucky ones that get to chase the dream for the wider group and the nation itself.
“If we can’t get excited for that and the first game against Romania, we’re in the wrong job. I think we’re in a great place, ready to take this challenge head on.”