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O'Connell set to pip Best to leading role

By Hugh Farrelly

Paul O'Connell is the overwhelming favourite to replace Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland captain when they open their Six Nations campaign against Wales in Dublin on February 5.

The Ireland squad go into training camp for the first time since the World Cup when they gather at Carton House this evening, with the possibility of an announcement on who takes over from the injured O'Driscoll before they break up at lunchtime on Saturday.

With O'Driscoll undergoing an expected six-month rehabilitation after shoulder surgery, Ladbrokes have O'Connell - the Munster and most recent Lions captain - at 1/5 to lead the side against Wales, with his nearest challenger, Ulster's Rory Best, at 5/1.

Other candidates include Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip but the bookmakers are not looking beyond the big two.

With a round of Pro12 fixtures taking place this weekend, it's expected that between 22 and 25 players will meet up in Kildare this evening, and these will be drawn primarily from the 30 that travelled to New Zealand 2011.

As well as various meetings and analysis sessions, there is training scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday before the squad breaks up around lunchtime on New Year's Eve.

That could be after a new captain is appointed, or Declan Kidney may prefer to delay making an announcement until the Six Nations squad is named.

Elsewhere, Northampton forward Adam Eustace has been forced to retire from rugby with immediate effect after suffering a neck injury.

The 32-year-old, who could play lock or number eight, has been restricted to just four games for the Saints since moving from Gloucester in 2010.

Eustace made one 18-minute appearance off the bench this season, against Saracens in the LV= Cup, and has been advised by specialists to retire.

"When I came to Northampton I wanted to make an impression," said Eustace, who had played over 200 games for Gloucester. I knew it was always going to be tough with so many good players, but unfortunately I've not been able to fulfil my personal goals.

"I feel really bad and somewhat guilty that I've not been able to repay Jim (Mallinder, the director of rugby) and Nobby (coach Dorian West) for bringing me to the club and the fans for their good wishes.

"For the first time in my career I've had one injury after another and it's been very frustrating to say the least.

"I'm indebted to the club for giving me all the time I've needed to get myself back.

"It's been hard to take on the chin and I'm pretty emotional about it."

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