O'Connell targets April for a return to competitive action
RUGBY:Paul O’Connell has targeted a return to competitive action in April after undergoing surgery to correct a bulging disc that was pressing on a nerve in his lower back. The Munster, Ireland and Lions secondrow had the operation in a Dublin hospital on New Year’s Eve and yesterday he was discharged from hospital to begin his rehabilitation at home.
The 33-year-old is optimistic that the procedure may provide a solution to what has been a hugely frustrating period beset by injury. He sustained knee ligament damage in Ireland’s 17-17 draw with France in a Six Nations Championship match at Stade de France on March 4th; an injury that kept him sidelined for seven months and saw him miss the three Test summer series in New Zealand.
He returned to play the opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup but following Munster’s 33-0 victory over Edinburgh at Thomond Park on October 21st a disc problem in his lower back flared up again. He had a similar issue in 2002 that required an operation and suffered a recurrence of the problem in 2008, albeit on that occasional surgical intervention wasn’t required.
When the problem arose again last October the medical prognosis was to initially treat the injury in a similar vein to 2008. However, following initial progress the rate of improvement slowed appreciably to a point whereby further medical consultation advocated surgery to try and conclusively deal with the long-standing complaint.
O’Connell admitted: “I’m delighted with the way the operation went. More importantly, so too are the medical team who carried out the operation and 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.”
He will miss the province’s final two rounds in the pool stage of the Heineken Cup and Ireland’s entire Six Nations Championship, which begins next month with a trip to the Millennium Stadium to take on Wales.
Having captained the Lions to South Africa in 2009 he was, prior to injury, a strong contender for a leadership role on this summer’s tour to Australia but his immediate goal will be simply to get back playing rugby on a consistent basis.
There was some further positive news for Munster coach Rob Penney with the confirmation that Ireland’s Keith Earls will be available for Saturday’s game against the Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park. Earls suffered a groin strain in the first of back-to-back European fixtures against Saracens at Thomond Park last month and hasn’t played since, missing the return game against the English club and also interprovincial skirmishes against Connacht and Ulster.