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Rugby World Cup: Leaders step up in the face of Irish injury onslaught

By Alan Quinlan

Published 12/10/2015

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 11: Paul O'Connell of Ireland reacts as he receives medical treatment during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between France and Ireland at Millennium Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 11: Paul O'Connell of Ireland reacts as he receives medical treatment during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between France and Ireland at Millennium Stadium on October 11, 2015 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It's hard to fathom what an enormous blow it is to Ireland's World Cup hopes to lose Paul O'Connell, but concerns about Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony mean this victory has come with a massive price-tag.

Looking at the Irish captain receiving lengthy treatment during half-time, we all realised that it was going to be his last action in an Irish shirt. What a terrible way for his astounding international career to end.

A young Ireland fan watches from the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photo: PA
A young Ireland fan watches from the stands during the Rugby World Cup match at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Photo: PA
Ireland's number 8 Jamie Heaslip celebrates. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER.
Thierry Dusautoir and Dave Kearney after the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Ireland's lock Iain Henderson celebrates with team-mates. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER
Dave Kearney of Ireland is wrapped up during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between France and Ireland. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Ireland's Iain Henderson in action. Photo:David Davies/PA Wire.
France's lock Yoann Maestri reacts after Ireland's scrum half Conor Murray scored their second try during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on October 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE
Ireland's lock and captain Paul O'Connell takes on France's lock Yoann Maestri. Photo: PA
Paul O'Connell is tackled by France's lock Yoann Maestri Photo: Getty
Referee Nigel Owens. Photo: PA
Ireland's Paul O'Connell receives treatment during the Rugby World Cup match.Photo: PA
Ireland's lock and captain Paul O'Connell tackles France's fly half Frederic Michalak. Photo: Getty
Ireland's fly half Jonathan Sexton leaves the field injured. Photo: Getty
Ireland's fly half Jonathan Sexton holds the ball during the Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between France and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Photo: Getty.
Peter O'Mahony of Ireland is tackled by Louis Picamoles. Photo: Getty
Ireland's scrum half Conor Murray tackles France's full-back Scott Spedding. Photo: Getty
France's scrum half Sebastien Tillous-Borde on the ball. Photo: Getty
Ireland's Jamie Heaslip in action. Photo: Getty
France's centre Wesley Fofana goes for the ball. Photo: Getty
France's Thierry Dusautoir passes the ball. Photo: PA
Ireland's lock Devin Toner catches the ball in a lineout. Photo: Getty
Peter O'Mahony of Ireland has his shirt pulled by Louis Picamoles (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
France's wing Noa Nakaitaci (top) goes over to reach the ball against Dave Kearney. Getty
Ireland's fly half Jonathan Sexton prepares to kick a penalty. Photo: Getty
Peter O'Mahony of Ireland receives medical treatment during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match between France and Ireland.(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Ireland's flanker Peter O'Mahony is stretchered off. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE.
Ireland's flanker Peter O'Mahony lays on a stretcher as he leaves the pitch. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS
Rob Kearney of Ireland goes up to take the ball during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D match. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

It was a strange place to be watching this going on in front of you. The white-hot atmosphere drained from under the closed roof of the Millennium Stadium as O'Connell was carted off halfway through his 108th cap.

But what was notable was the way Ireland's other leaders stepped forward in the vacuum. Rory Best was outstanding throughout; Robbie Henshaw put in his best 80 minutes in an Ireland shirt; Conor Murray was brilliant; Sean O'Brien looked back to his best; and Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner and Iain Henderson were masterful.

O'Mahony was another of Ireland's heroic performers. Without the leader of the pack, he stepped forward before he became the third of Ireland's frontline players to be forced from the field. From the despair at half-time Ireland reignited the Cardiff ground with some masterful, heroic performances.

But focus will be quickly turned to the next job. Next Sunday they'll face a mightily physical Argentinian side that are as good, if not better, than any previous Pumas team.

As well as the high-profile injuries, there is also a chance that Ireland could have to cope without another one of their aces next week if O'Brien is cited for an off-the-ball incident with Pascal Pape. And it'll be such a shame if he misses game time. As well as being a complete pest on French ball, he carried powerfully on numerous occasions and his tackle count was good too.

Another man that deserves huge credit is Ian Madigan, who brought a real zip to the Irish play after his introduction for the unfortunate Sexton. His sharp inside passing pierced the French defence on numerous occasions.

Read more:

Rugby World Cup: Paul O'Connell had Irish players in tears with speech before France victory

Rugby World Cup: Ireland's Peter O'Mahony is out due to injury, but still hope for Sexton  

And it looks like he may have to do it again next weekend. Ireland will be waiting anxiously for the outcome of Sexton's injury, but he looked distraught coming off and you'd hope it's not as bad as it looks.

With so many injuries, including Jared Payne, we could see three or four call-ups to the squad from the stand-by list in the coming days. We have said all along what a plus it was to come through games without injuries; unfortunately they all came at once for Ireland.

In the midst of all the euphoria after the game and the 15-point demolition job Ireland did on the French, it has to be said that it could have been a lot more too. To a man the effort was incredible.

And much of the credit must go to Joe Schmidt and his coaches. This was a prime example of a composed execution of a game-plan to the nth degree. In the end it was comfortable, but for periods it was very close.

Just three points separated the sides at half-time, but Ireland smothered them from there on.

There is no doubt that we saw Ireland produce some of the plays they've been keeping in reserve, but the most staggering improvements came in the tempo of their game and the amount of footwork they brought before the tackle.

My heart goes out to O'Connell, Sexton and O'Mahony. I know only too well how hard it is to cope with serious injury.

I think that Ireland are capable of working their way past Argentina, but it's going to be another huge test next weekend.

Belfast Telegraph

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