PAUL O'CONNELL is expected to be ruled out of contention for Munster until January at the earliest.
O'Connell hasn't played any rugby since Munster defeated Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup back in October – he missed all of Ireland's November internationals after his long-standing back injury flared up.
The totemic second-row is now understood to be considering an operation in an effort to clear up the problem.
A decision on whether or not O'Connell will go under the knife is expected to be made this week.
The out-half is understood to have injured his back in a gym session earlier in the week and took no part in training after Wednesday. Indeed, so concerned were Munster regarding his availability that JJ Hanrahan was, at the last minute, withdrawn from the Munster 'A' team that played at Rotherham in the British and Irish Cup earlier in the day.
If O'Gara had not been able to play, Ian Keatley would have started, with Hanrahan on the bench.
O'Gara took only a limited part in the match warm-up but he was fit enough to start. That he completed the full 80 minutes, scored all 15 of Munster's points and rivalled James Coughlan for the man of the match award emphasises just how valuable a competitor he is. O'Gara was at his imperious best and his influence on the contest was decisive. He led the team expertly, kicked sublimely and provided leadership and inspiration.
Simon Zebo and Dave O'Callaghan shipped knocks during Munster's win, but coach Rob Penney believes they will both be available for selection for the return game at Vicarage Road on Sunday afternoon.