O’Connell set to miss Ireland's Six Nations bid
Paul O’Connell will have surgery on his back before this week is out in an effort to ensure he makes a comeback before the season is out.
It is expected that the rehabilitation process will take up to eight weeks.
The Munster and Ireland second row has exhausted all other avenues open to him and will go under the scalpel to resolve a long-standing bulging disc injury in his lower back in a development Munster coach Rob Penney has heralded as positive.
“I think it’s a really massive step forward, because the uncertainty for Paul has been, obviously, a frustration,” said Penney.
“He's been beavering away with a whole lot of medical support and it’s been what they would term a conservative management of his injury and they’ve come to the conclusion the time is now.
“I suppose get on the front foot and be more aggressive with the treatment.”
This injury first surfaced during O’Connell’s rehab from knee damage sustained in March.
It resurfaced during Ireland’s preparations for the November international against South Africa.
O’Connell previously had surgery on his back in 2001/02 but this latest problem is not related to that injury.
Penney added: “Whatever happens let’s just hope he’s got full use of his faculties and has everything he possesses so he can live a normal and healthy life — the rugby stuff is secondary”.
But hopes are high within the squad that this development will be a positive one for the talismanic second row.
It is believed that the surgery will rescue some of O’Connell’s season but he will in all probability miss all of Ireland’s Six Nations Championship, which starts on February 2 when they take on Wales in Cardiff.
It is also unlikely he will have recovered in time to make an impression on British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland and |O'Connell had previously resigned himself to missing out on the tour to Australia.
“I'd love to go but at this stage it's probably not looking great for me,” he said.
But given his undoubted abilities and standing within the game if he returns to full fitness and resumes playing with Munster before the season is out there is every chance he could be included on the tour.
Whatever the outcome of the operation and no matter how quickly he rehabs, his absence will continue to leave a huge hole in the Munster dressing-room, as attested by Billy Holland.
“Paulie is the most inspirational person in the squad,” said Holland after another decent shift in the Munster second row against Ulster on Saturday evening.
“He’s a hugely selfless guy and when he hasn't been playing this year, he's been helping a lot of the younger fellas.
“This is my first year calling line-outs and he's given me a lot of guidance, personally, in terms of how to deal with it.
“He's also helped Donnacha Ryan a lot in terms of Heineken Cup and he's inspirational.”
O’Connell is, in every sense, a father figure to the Munster side.
When they scrum down with O’Connell it is as if he is the drive-shaft of the engine room, transmitting his considerable power and calm authority while binding the eight into a highly explosive unit.
He throws a comforting blanket over their backs and encourages them to better themselves. And they rarely let him down.
O’Connell’s critics will suggest that his handling ability has sometimes let him down but who in the game is better at catching a stray arrow with his finger-tips?
And while he isn’t the most athletic of individuals his carries usually tend to be hugely effective ones.