Best sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder in the second half of Sunday’s 36-6 victory over Italy and the Ulster hooker was yesterday receiving treatment as the Ireland management give him every possible chance to recover.
McNaughton said a contingency plan was in place should Best be forced out of the squad but he declined to name the possible replacement (thought to be Munster’s Mike Sherry) and said no-one had been flown out as yet.
“Rory’s certainly doubtful for the weekend but we haven’t written him off just yet,” McNaughton said.
“We’ll assess it again [today] and have more information then. He’s definitely doubtful. He’s getting manipulation at the moment. We’ll have a better idea tomorrow after a morning’s treatment.”
Best has been in the form of his international career as part of a blossoming front-row partnership between props Cian Healy and Mike Ross. Healy spent the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s win being interviewed by the Dunedin match commissioner on behalf of the Auckland-based citing commissioner concerning an alleged attempted eye gouge on the Irishman by Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini. Theciting commissioner had not last night, local time, cited Ghiraldini for the incident that sparked outrage from Healy.
“We were asked questions and asked to make a brief statement on it to the match commissioner. We did that in the ground,” McNaughton said. “Cian answered several questions put to him by the match commissioner and gave a statement, but we haven’t heard anything since.”
In a separate development, Ireland learned yesterday that South African referee Craig Joubert had been placed in charge of this weekend’s match with Wales. It will be the third time at this tournament that Joubert has officiated an Ireland game. He also took charge of Ireland’s Pool C wins over the USA and Russia.
Meanwhile, Irish backs coach Alan Gaffney has dubbed 22-year-old Conor Murray the “future of Irish number nines”. Just five appearances into his international career and less than five months after leaving the Munster Academy, Murray has made himself a firm fixture in the Ireland set-up, earning the praise of his teammates and coaches with assured performances as a replacement to help close out the 15-6 win over Australia and steering the Irish for 74 minutes of Sunday night’s victory over Italy.
“He’s a big boy, he’s an aggressive guy in close, he’s got a good service, he challenges the opposition on a constant basis. He’s a definite threat and it is taking a bit of pressure off the people on the outside,” Gaffney said yesterday in Wellington as Ireland flew in from Dunedin to prepare for this weekend’s knockout clash.
“He has definitely improved very, very quickly. I watched him play with Munster and he had an outstanding game in the final of the then Magners League. He’s just a boy who has developed. Declan [Kidney] showed an awesome amount of faith in the boy bringing him across and leaving Tomás [O’Leary] back at home. It was a big call but I think Conor will be the future of Irish number nines.”