Ulster Rugby captain Rory Best will miss the 2009-10 season due to a neck injury.
Following recent pain and subsequent medical investigation, it has been discovered that the Ireland hooker is suffering from an underlying chronic disc injury on his neck which requires surgery and a lengthy recovery period of between 9 and 12 months.
Ulster's Operations Director David Humphreys commented:
"Obviously losing Rory at the start of the season is a huge blow for us, not only is he our No. 1 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."
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.