IRELAND are set to lose twin enforcers Peter O’Mahony and Paul O’Connell from their World Cup campaign.
The staggering collateral damage from Sunday’s superlative 24-9 victory over France could lead to three fresh faces joining Ireland’s World Cup squad as injury replacements.
O’Mahony flew home to Cork yesterday after suffering knee ligament damage, to be replaced by Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock, while O’Connell was awaiting merely the formalities of confirmation that both his tournament and Test career were over.
Ireland captain O’Connell spent Sunday night in hospital with a “significant hamstring injury”, with full-back Rob Kearney branding his impending departure a “monumental loss”.
“Paul O’Connell appears to have suffered a significant hamstring injury and was hospitalised overnight. He’s having scans later today to clarify the extent of the injury,” team manager Mick Kearney said yesterday.
“Peter O’Mahony has suffered a knee ligament injury and is returning to Dublin today for specialist opinion and will take no further part in the tournament.
“Johnny Sexton suffered a groin injury, initial clinical assessment is encouraging and we await scanning later today.
“After an incredibly physical encounter, a host of players are reporting bumps and soreness and will have to be managed, but nothing more serious than that.
“As soon as we have more clarity on the injury front, we will be in a position to make decisions on replacement players.
“At the moment, definitively, only Peter O’Mahony has been ruled out. Paul was in hospital overnight and he was obviously very sore. The coaches met this morning and discuss a number of different options.”
Ireland could also receive further bad news ahead of their quarter-final with Argentina in Cardiff on Sunday. Flanker Sean O’Brien is expected to be cited for an apparent punch to the ribs on France lock Pascal Pape, and could miss the last-eight match.
Ireland are yet to name a replacement for centre Jared Payne, who was ruled out of the World Cup with a foot injury before the France game, but started their cavalry call by adding 24-year-old Ruddock to their ranks to offset the loss of O’Mahony. Andrew Trimble is in the frame to slot in for Payne, while Dan Tuohy could be lined up to slot in for O’Connell.
O’Connell’s Test career appears at an end after 108 caps. The 35-year-old was due to retire from the Test arena at the end of the competition, but the severity of his injury will surely accelerate that process.
The Toulon-bound second row beat the Millennium Stadium turf in anguish after suffering his injury before being carried off on a stretcher at half-time during Sunday’s France clash.
Rob Kearney accepted O’Connell’s World Cup was effectively at an end, admitting Ireland will suffer in his absence. “There’s not much I can say here and now that can give testament to his contribution to Irish rugby and this World Cup,” Kearney said.
“Of course if he is ruled out it’s going to be a monumental loss to us. The form he’s in is superb. He looks as though he’s really enjoying his rugby, too, and you always say when guys look like they’re really enjoying what they’re doing that’s generally when they get the best out of themselves. If it is the case that he’s out, it would be massively disappointing, and we’d have lost one of our key players.”
Kearney hailed O’Connell for “beaming ear to ear” at Ireland’s victory, despite fearing the worst on a personal front.
“I suppose the fact that he’s been around more than any of us at World Cups, it is difficult for him,” Kearney said, accepting O’Connell’s fate. “We felt awful for him, but I think it was great to see the sheer delight on his face after the game in terms of what we’d achieved as opposed to feeling sorry for himself.”