O’Connell signals Lions intent

Paul O’Connell gave British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland a timely boost yesterday by announcing his availability for the summer tour to Australia.

The Irishman, captain when the tourists visited South Africa in2009, hopes to have put a series of injury problems behind him and get back on the field of play by early April, giving him time to prove fitness and form to the New Zealander.

O’Connell had successful surgery in Dublin yesterday to solve a back injury that has plagued him for months, following hot on the heels of long-term knee problem.

The operation was to repair a bulging disc pressing on a nerve, an injury which did not respond non-evasive treatment, and one that has kept him sidelined since round two of the Heineken Cup against Edinburgh.

It was initially thought the second row could avoid surgery, as he had with a similar ailment in 2008. However, after the injury showed no signs of healing, he was advised to undergo surgery.

“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,” said O’Connell.

The injury rules him out of the Six Nations but O’Connell hopes to help Munster later in the season and opens up the strong possibility of getting an invitation to join the Lions in Australia.

“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 said.

Munster Rugby officials yesterday confirmed O’Connell had come through the operation.

“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.”

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