Ireland coach Declan Kidney is reeling from the news that Paul O’Connell is out for the Six Nations as he awaits surgery on a back injury.

But captain Brian O’Driscoll and full-back Rob Kearney should be back in time for the season opener against Wales in February.

Munster coach Rob Penney has confirmed that O’Connell will undergo an operation to cure his back injury.

The Reds captain is now struggling to make the Lions tour to Australia in the summer after battling the injury since March.

Penney revealed: “Paul will have the operation and I think it’s a really massive step forward, because the uncertainty for Paul has been, obviously, a frustration.

“He’s been beavering away with a whole lot of medical support. It’s been what they would term a conservative management of his injury and they’ve come to the conclusion that the time is now to get on the front foot and be more aggressive with treatment.

“The good thing is there is light at the end of the tunnel for the guy.

“Whatever happens let’s just hope he’s got full use of his faculties and everything he possesses so he’ll live a normal healthy life. The rugby stuff is secondary.”

O’Driscoll is now favorite to take over from O’Connell as captain of the Lions for the summer tour to Australia.

The Ireland skipper is back in training with Leinster after ankle surgery and could feature in Friday night’s Celtic League clash with Edinburgh.

Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald could also feature in that game as they step up their recovery programmes after recent injuries.

Declan Kidney and Paul O'Connell coach and captain of the Irish rugby teamGoogle Images