IRELAND'S Paul O'Connell is aiming at a return-to-play date of early April following an operation on a bulging disc in Dublin on Monday.
Astonishingly, O'Connell eventually underwent surgery on a disc in his back more than four years after it started to trouble the second row.
"Paul O'Connell underwent surgery in Dublin to correct a bulging disc that was pressing on a nerve in his lower back. The operation was a success and O'Connell will leave hospital today and return home," read a Munster statement yesterday.
"O'Connell had a similar issue in 2002 that required surgery and a re-occurrence in 2008, but at that time, it was managed without needing surgery and he got back in time to feature in the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup and Magners League.
"When the problem arose again this season, it was initially decided to manage it conservatively as in 2008," it continued.
"However, though progress was made using that treatment, improvements slowed and after further consultation it was believed more prudent for him to undergo surgery in order to make a return to match fitness."
In the process, O'Connell has had to admit defeat in his efforts to make it back before Ireland's Six Nations campaign.
In terms of the actual surgery, O'Connell was encouraged by what his specialist had to say: "I'm delighted with the way the operation went. More importantly, so too are the medical team who carried out the operation.
"I am very grateful to all concerned. My aim now is to start rehab as soon as is practicable. In terms of a return, I'd be looking at early April when, hopefully, Munster will be in contention for trophies on two fronts."