The chances of Paul O’Connell completing a full house of British and Irish Lions trips to the great southern hemisphere rugby nations appeared more remote than ever today, despite successful back surgery at a hospital in Dublin.
The Munster and Ireland lock, who played for the British and Irish Lions in the Test series against New Zealand in 2005 and captained them in South Africa four years ago, does not expect to resume playing until the start of April at the earliest. That means O’Connell will have had next to no game time when the squad for this summer’s tour to Australia is named later that month.
O’Connell has been suffering acute discomfort in his lower back – a bulging disc was found to be pressing on a nerve. While Monday’s operation went well enough, he still faces a lengthy period of recuperation and reconditioning. Unless Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, gambles on the 33-year-old Irishman’s fitness, he will select from an inexperienced band of second-row candidates, led at this stage by three Englishmen in Geoff Parling, Courtney Lawes and the gifted newcomer Joe Launchbury.
Shaun Edwards, Gatland’s long-time coaching partner but beaten to a place on the Lions staff by his old rugby league mucker Andy Farrell, has ended a brief association with London Irish in order to devote himself to the Wales national team. The Exiles did not obviously benefit from Edwards’ renowned expertise as a defence strategist, leaking 31 tries in 12 games – the worst record in the Premiership.