Ulster's skipper and hooker Rory Best will miss the 2009-10 season
Ulster rugby captain Rory Best has been ruled out for the entire season because of a neck injury.
The loss of the Ireland hooker is a massive setback for the province and new coach Brian McLaughlin.
It has been revealed that the 26-year-old has a chronic disc injury which needs an operation with a recovery period of between nine and 12 months.
"This is a huge blow us. Rory is one of our most experienced players," said operations director David Humphreys.
"But what is most important is Rory's long-term health and welfare, and there is no reason not to expect him to return fully to rugby, after surgery and rehabilitation, next season.
"The timing of this injury presents difficulties as most players are contracted for the 2009-10 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."