Kieran Marmion is a doubt for Ireland's opening games in their Natwest Six Nations defence after Connacht confirmed that he will require surgery on an ankle injury. 

Marmion first picked up the injury playing for Connacht in October’s historic win in Ulster and suffered a recurrence in the Ireland shirt against Argentina, but still managed to deliver his best international performance in last weekend’s memorable win against New Zealand.

Ireland skills coach Richie Murphy said: "Kieran has been carrying an injury for the last couple of weeks.

"He’s been fine and able to get through the games no problem.

"I think it goes back to maybe the Connacht vs Ulster game and then he hurt it again against Argentina.

"It’s obviously not great for Connacht because he is going to miss out, but we felt it was the right time to get him fixed up and have him ready for what’s coming up in the new year."

Connacht and the IRFU have decided that surgery is now the best option for Marmion, who will undergo the procedure on Wednesday which will rule him out for the next 12 weeks.

Ireland's Six Nations campaign begins at home against England on 2 February.  

"He was brilliant against New Zealand," said Connacht coach Andy Friend.

"For Kieran, he suffered that foot and ankle injury in the first 45 seconds of the Ulster match and that has hampered him since then.

"He is a tough man and he managed to get through a few games but the bottom line is that there is an underlying issue there.

‘The collective decision from the IRFU and from Connacht was to look after him and fix it as quickly as possible. Hence the reason to get the surgery done."

Connacht are in South Africa for the next fortnight where they will face Kings this Sunday before they take on Cheetahs the following weekend.

In-form Caolin Blade will likely reclaim the starting nine shirt, while James Mitchell has also travelled with the squad for the tour and will challenge for game time.

Marmion had already been ruled out of those games in South Africa due to international duties, but he will now miss Connacht’s Challenge Cup double header against Perpignan, as well as the Leinster, Ulster and Munster Christmas inter-pros.