Back surgery to end O'Connell hope for Six Nations and Lions tour return
DECLAN Kidney and Rob Penney have been rocked by the news that Paul O'Connell's season could be over.
Munster have confirmed that the giant lock would undergo surgery on a back injury that has blighted his season.
The former British and Irish Lions captain, who has been dogged by injury in recent years, has only played two games for Munster this season and the back injury also forced him to sit out Ireland's November internationals.
Munster said in a statement that the 33-year-old lock would undergo back surgery at the earliest opportunity but did not give a time frame for how long his recovery would take, although it is believed that he will not return to action until next season, missing the Six Nations and the Lions tour of Australia in the summer.
"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.
"It's been what they would term a conservative management of his injury and they've come to the conclusion that the time is now."
Fellow Munster second row Billy Holland has lamented O'Connell's loss but praised his inspirational effect on the Munster team.
"Paulie is the most inspirational person in the squad," said Holland.
"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 in terms of how to deal with it. He's also helped Donnacha Ryan a lot in terms of the Heineken Cup and he's inspirational."
Ulster wing Tommy Bowe, Ireland's third highest tryscorer of all time, had already been ruled out of the Six Nations earlier this month with a knee injury.