O’Connell was yesterday ruled out of the three-Test series against the world-champion All Blacks due to the knee injury he suffered on May 5 in a RaboDirect Pro12 home game against Ulster. Yet although rehabilitation this week in London failed to convince medics of his fitness to make the arduous journey to Auckland, the four-to-six week recovery period outlined from initial scans still stands.
“He would have been very close to going on the tour and we expect him to be fully back with us when the other internationals return for pre-season,” a Munster spokesman said.
O’Connell had been preparing to follow the Ireland squad out to New Zealand, the main party is due to land in Auckland this evening, but an Irish team press statement said: “He has failed to progress to the level required to allow him take an active part in the tour.”
So O’Connell’s named is added to a worrying list of casualties already containing Isaac Boss, Tommy Bowe, Tom Court, Stephen Ferris and Luke Fitzgerald while there are concerns that tighthead prop Mike Ross may miss the first Test at Eden Park on June 9 due to a hamstring strain suffered in Leinster’s RaboDirect Pro12 final defeat to Ospreys last Sunday.
Ross at least travelled with the Ireland squad as did Connacht forward Mike McCarthy, drafted in by Declan Kidney as further back-five cover in O’Connell’s absence.
Yet Ireland’s loss would appear to be Munster’s gain as they prepare to begin life under incoming head coach Rob Penney. The new boss should be able to get a full pre-season out of his first-choice second-row and given O’Connell’s impact on the province after similar preparation last summer, that will be warmly welcomed by the former Canterbury head coach.
Penney and forwards coach Anthony Foley were joined on the management staff on Tuesday by the appointment of a new backs coach in Simon Mannix and the now Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald has switched his focus to the process of finding a new team manager to replace Shaun Payne.
Niall O’Donovan is believed to be very much the favourite for the vacancy although there is believed to be three candidates set for interviews ahead of an announcement in possibly just over two weeks.
O’Connell was not the only one ruled out of the tour to New Zealand yesterday as long-serving baggage master Patrick ‘Rala’ O’Reilly was forced to stay at home due to back problems.
O’Reilly, Ireland’s kitman since 1995, was suffering from back spasms in the lead-up to last Tuesday’s match against the Barbarians at Kingsholm and prop Cian Healy confirmed via his Twitter account that ‘Rala’ was not on the plane bound for New Zealand.
“Sad day to inform all that the great Rala will not be traveling to NZ. first one he has missed in 15odd years. #getwellsoon”, Healy tweeted.