PAUL O’CONNELL insists Ireland have not kept their powder dry at the World Cup in a bid to outwit France in today’s crucial World Cup battle.
Johnny Sexton started the week by revealing head coach Joe Schmidt has devised a new set of attacking plays specifically targeted at unlocking France’s defence in Cardiff.
If Ireland beat France today they will top Pool D and meet Argentina in the last eight, avoiding defending champions New Zealand in the process.
Ireland’s entire World Cup campaign was always likely to revolve around this battle with Les Bleus, but O’Connell has rejected suggestions Schmidt’s men will roll out an entirely new approach this weekend.
“We haven’t been keeping anything up our sleeve,” said O’Connell. “If we’re going to live by the philosophy that we’ve lived by in the last two years that we take each game in turn and that the next game’s the most important one, then we need to carry that through.
“I believe it’s important that we’ve done that over the last few months. And we’ve tried plenty of plays in games but they just haven’t come off as well as we would have liked.
“And that’s probably reflected in some of our results and some of those summer games as well, so we haven’t held anything back. We’ve put everything into this week and we’ll do the same the week after.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Trimble has been backed to replace luckless centre Jared Payne in Ireland’s World Cup squad.
Ulster’s Payne, pictured below, was ruled out of Ireland’s World Cup campaign with a foot fracture yesterday, after initially being passed fit in midweek.
The 29-year-old suffered a bad reaction to training on Wednesday and scans revealed the extent of his problem on Friday night.
Payne flew home yesterday morning, with Ireland delaying a decision on his replacement until after the France game – but Tommy Bowe backed Ulster wing Trimble to join Joe Schmidt’s squad. “I tell you what, listen, Trimby’s a really great mate of mine – I’d love to see him out here,” Bowe said.
“I think he has a fantastic opportunity to be here. He was definitely a guy who trained exceptionally well during pre-season. He’s a very experienced customer. He’s shown exactly what sort of quality he has and when it comes to big matches. We know what we can expect from a player of his quality.”
Munster’s Keith Earls continues at 13 in Payne’s absence today, and Bowe backed Ireland’s depth and versatility across the back line to help offset Payne’s loss, despite the Ulster star being head coach Schmidt’s clear first choice at outside centre.
“That’s one of the benefits with us knowing that Jared has had to bow out,” Bowe said.
“He’s one of the centres who has played the most in that position, probably himself and Robbie [Henshaw], but knowing the likes of Luke [Fitzgerald] have already played at this World Cup, Darren Cave can obviously play there, Keith Earls has slotted in as well. So versatility is a huge positive for us.”
Scrum coach Greg Feek and captain Paul O’Connell revealed a sombre mood in the Ireland camp on bidding Payne an unhappy farewell yesterday morning.
“It’s a massive loss and we really feel for him,” Feek said. “It was a bit of a moment for him. It’s always tough to lose one of your family members like that. His foot just got re-checked this week. [On Friday] evening he got the confirmation.
“You try to include him and we wanted to try to get him out there this week, but it was also about managing that process while we were finding out how he was.”
New Zealand-born Payne has excelled in Ireland’s midfield since his November 2014 debut, helping Schmidt’s huge battle of moving the side past the twin retirements of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.
Payne and Robbie Henshaw have forged a formidable defensive unit in the centres, and Earls will have to be at his very best to maintain that level against France, especially with juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud careering through his channel.
“He’s a big loss,” Ireland captain O’Connell said. “What he’s done in the short time he’s played for Ireland has been incredible.
“He’s very calm on the pitch. He’ll tell you exactly what to do in one short sentence. He’s had an elder statesman attitude about how he goes about things.”