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RBS 6 Nations: Waiting game adds to agony for Ireland captain Paul O'Connell

By Niall Crozier

If Paul O'Connell had his way, Ireland would be back in action this weekend rather than having to wait until Saturday week to host Italy.

In the aftermath of his side's 13-10 defeat by England at Twickenham the 90 times-capped lock said: "Unfortunately it's a two-week turn-around, though after a game like that you'd rather just go straight home and play again the following week so you can erase it from your mind.

"We're in camp this week in Belfast so we'll review the England game and then prepare for Italy."

O'Connell and the Irish entourage arrive tomorrow for a two-day training camp at Cooke RFC's Shaw's Bridge grounds. Ahead of that, Irish head coach Joe Schmidt and his lieutenants Les Kiss and John Plumtree will have assessed what went wrong at Twickenham.

Two of their front-line players – Brian O'Driscoll and Peter O'Mahony – picked up injuries in what was a physically, as well as mentally, bruising battle with the English.

Flanker O'Mahony's problem is a hamstring strain, while centre O'Driscoll experienced cramp in his calf in the latter stages. An IRFU statement regarding the Munster back row forward said he "will be monitored by the medical team over the course of the coming week."

O'Driscoll, the IRFU said, "has been very focused on his recovery and will be further assessed over the coming week."

The hope of every Irish sports fan of whatever code is to see O'Driscoll create history in 11 days time, for having equalled Australian George Cregan's world record 139 Test appearances last weekend, the scene is now set for the Dubliner, not only to go one better by chalking up 140, but to do it in what will be his last-ever international in his home city.

With this being 35-year-old star's last season, he has two more opportunities to make history before hanging up his boots – at home to Italy on March 8 and away to France a week later in what could be a winner-takes-all title shoot-out.

Straight after the Twickenham game, from which O'Driscoll exited in discomfort with a minute remaining, Schmidt said: "It was his calf cramping up, so we're pretty hopeful that it will be nothing more than that. We'll get that assessed in the next 48 hours and have an update on Tuesday."

The Wednesday-Thursday training camp at Cooke has now assumed major importance, with the weekend results leaving Ireland, England, Wales and France – in that order – on four points apiece with two matches remaining. As things stand, any one of that quartet can be champions.

Of the remaining Six Nations fixtures, those which matter are Ireland v Italy, Scotland v France (both March 8), England v Wales (March 9), Italy v England, Wales v Scotland and France v Ireland (all March 15)

Quite apart from what Ireland's date with the Italians means to O'Driscoll at a personal level, it has become a must-win game for Schmidt's men if they are to land the title.

Schmidt said: "We've just got to make sure that in the next two weeks we put ourselves in the best position to beat Italy."

Hopefully with O'Driscoll on the pitch wearing the number 13 jersey and able to enjoy the ovation to which he is entitled for such a magnificent career.

Belfast Telegraph

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