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Rugby World Cup: Chris Henry close to tears at captain Paul O'Connell's final call to arms

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 14/10/2015

Battering ram: Chris Henry (left) helps Jordi Murphy drive forward with some help from Paul O’Connell (right)
Battering ram: Chris Henry (left) helps Jordi Murphy drive forward with some help from Paul O’Connell (right)

Chris Henry was one of the players on the verge of tears as Paul O'Connell delivered what turned out to be his final Ireland team-talk last weekend and the Ulster flanker is sure that Jamie Heaslip's will have no shortage of inspiration when he prepares to rouse the troops ahead of Sunday's quarter-final with Argentina.

O'Connell's World Cup and Test career were ended by a hamstring injury 40 minutes into the Pool D victory over France at the Millennium Stadium and, with number 8 Heaslip set to take over the captaincy in his absence, Ireland are bidding for a first ever semi-final spot when they take on the Pumas back at the same venue.

Henry will likely start at openside after Sean O'Brien was handed a two-week ban, reduced to one, yesterday for striking France's Pascal Pape during last weekend's game and the 31-year-old said: "The team talk does write itself ultimately this week.

"There's a lot at stake and Jamie speaks really well, but I don't think it's going to need too much speaking.

"Everyone's very, very focused, you can see it in the way people are floating around the place at the moment.

"Having that extra 24 hours was a big pushing factor, and I think we're going to need that rest.

"Not too many words will be needed.

"(Sunday's pre-match speech from O'Connell) is obviously just for the players, but it was just basically what it meant to him and what it meant to all of us. That was the gist.

"We were very privileged that we were able to stay in that huddle with him. I won't get into too much more detail about it but the whole weekend was about meaning more.

"For the last two years, we've been very focused on being clinical and knowing our roles, but rugby is an emotional game and that can get that extra bit out of you.

"It showed in the way the 15 players who took the pitch against France were able to get on top of them and hunt them down.

"You can lift all the weights you want in the gym, but sometimes it's having a massive heart, and that's what Paulie has and that's what the 15 players who started the game had.

"The bus journey into the Millennium Stadium last week before France was crazy. The noise when we were warming up, the roar when big tackles or breaks were made, the atmosphere was phenomenal and we've no doubts it will be there and thereabouts again this week."

Mike McCarthy, rather than Ulster's Dan Tuohy, was called up to replace O'Connell and with Peter O'Mahony also ruled out for the tournament thanks to an injury sustained against France, Henry is hoping that continued progress for Ireland will provide some level of comfort for his stricken teammates.

"Paul and Pete set the tone for what followed on the pitch last week, and hopefully that's some small solace for them," he said.

"They were playing unbelievably and that's the heartbreaking thing. And if we can use that as any extra motivation, if it can give us just 1% more in terms of performance, then we'll try.

"And we want to do it for those players, they've given so much not just in the last five weeks, but in the last decade.

"So it would be incredible to do something special for Paul and Pete.

"Sunday will be about how we front up on the pitch - if you look at past games whenever Ireland have faltered it's usually Paulie that generates something, smashes someone or gets the ball and does something different.

"If we can use that as inspiration, then we will."

No Ireland team has ever won a World Cup quarter-final and, although shorn of several key contributors, the last eight meeting with the Pumas stands between the squad and history.

The Pumas have been one of the tournament's most impressive teams, perhaps only bettered by unbeaten Australia.

And Malone man Henry is expecting a hugely testing encounter.

"The players that are here, we know we have a chance of making history this weekend and that adds the pressure," he said

"In the last two years, we've risen to the pressure but, look, we're playing against one of the form teams. They've scored a ridiculous amount of tries."

Belfast Telegraph

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