Ireland captain Paul O’Connell pulled out of the Rugby World Cup and ended his international career on Tuesday because of a hamstring injury suffered against France.
“Paul O’Connell suffered a significant hamstring injury and will undergo surgery this week,” the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) said in a statement on the agonising finish to his 13 years as the engine room of the Irish pack.
“Paul will not play again at Rugby World Cup 2015 and his time out of the game will depend on the outcome of the surgery.”
Leinster’s Mike McCarthy has been called up to the Ireland squad, preparing to take on Argentina in the quarter-finals.
“A leader, a warrior, a gentleman (Paul O’Connell) has played his last for Ireland,” the IRFU also tweeted.
O’Connell, 35, was taken off on a stretcher at halftime of Ireland’s 24-9 final Pool D victory over France at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and spent the night in hospital.
He is set to be out for around three months before starting with French club Toulon.
O’Connell’s absence follows flanker Peter O’Mahony’s knee ligament damage in the brutal victory over France.
Influential centre Jared Payne also returned home last week with a foot fracture.
And there are lingering doubts over five-eighth Jonny Sexton with a groin injury.
Coach Joe Schmidt will have his fingers crossed that Sexton is available the Argentina quarter-final, with star openside flanker Sean O’Brien to appear at a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday for hitting French lock Pascal Pape.
The IRFU tribute was one of many to flood social media after the O’Connell announcement.
He finished with 108 caps, a Six Nations Grand Slam and led Ireland to two successive Six Nations titles.
The lock, who turns 36 in a week, is a huge hero in Ireland.
O’Connell, despite the battered features and the former thick thatch of red hair having thinned to almost nothing, is the rugby man, past and present, who topped a poll this year of 1000 Irish women with 23 per cent saying who they would most like to go to bed with. Retired poster child Brian O’Driscoll came third with 17 per cent.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt of New Zealand had no hesitation in choosing O’Connell as his skipper for the title-winning 2014 Six Nations side, despite his multiple injuries through the years and his age.
Last November, he summed up his captain’s class with a word from his homeland: ‘Mana’ – which means power, effectiveness and prestige in Maori and other traditional Pacific languages.
“A guy who does not know how to give up. When he’s done, he delivers again. Not many have the mental capacity that Paul O’Connell has.”
O’Connell’s importance was such that on his third British and Irish Lions tour, in 2013 to Australia, he was asked by coach Warren Gatland to stay on with a broken arm in the first Test.