Veteran lock to undergo back surgery at the earliest opportunity
Munster revealed on Saturday that Paul O'Connell will undergo surgery to correct the back problem that has sidelined him since October.
This will almost certainly end his dream of leading the British and Irish Lions on back-to-back tours, when they head to Australia next year.
While the Munster statement did not put a timeframe on his possible return to the playing field, back surgery will rule him out of the Six Nations and thus end his chances of impressing Lions coach Warren Gatland.
Despite a recent statement that O'Connell's treatment for the lower back injury was "progressing satisfactorily", Munster confirmed that he will now go under the knife.
"Following consultation between IRFU [Irish Rugby Football Union] and Munster medical staff and the player himself, it has been decided that Paul O'Connell will undergo back surgery at the earliest opportunity," the Munster statement read.
O'Connell, who captained the B&I Lions on their tour to South Africa in 2009, was one of the leading candidates to skipper the four Home Unions when they combine for next year's trip Down Under.
However, a recent string of injuries now seem to have scuppered that prospect.
He has been undergoing treatment on his back problem and it was initially expected that he would return in time for the start of the Six Nations in February.
The Irish international has been out for over a month with a persistent knee injury, which kept him out of the disastrous June tour of New Zealand and the early part of this season.
However, O'Connell did return to full training with the Irish squad for the November Tests, but was again ruled out after the long-term back injury flared up again.
O'Connell's last competitive match was in the European Cup against Edinburgh, last year's semifinalists.