IRELAND coach Joe Schmidt says captain Paul O’Connell injured his upper hamstring in yesterday’s World Cup win over France and is a doubtful starter for the remainder of the tournament.
O’Connell, who was carried off on a motorised stretcher during the half-time break, will have a scan today but Schmidt admitted: “It doesn’t look great.”
The 35-year-old lock, one of Ireland’s greatest players, had planned to retire from international rugby at the end of the tournament.
Schmidt had better news on the fitness of stand-off Jonny Sexton and flanker Peter O’Mahony, who also went off injured in the Pool D decider but could be available for the quarter-final against Argentina on Sunday.
Schmidt said Sexton may have injured an adductor muscle after a crunching tackle from France No 8 Louis Picamoles, but that he is “already talking about next week”. O’Mahony has a “twisted ankle or knee,” according to Schmidt, who said the blindside flanker “was walking pretty well in the changing room”.
Despite the injuries, it was a glorious victory for Ireland, who will now meet the Pumas in the last eight and avoid defending champions New Zealand, lining up their best-ever crack at a first World Cup semi-final.
Rob Kearney and Conor Murray claimed the tries to subdue a stunned France.
Ian Madigan stepped out of Sexton’s shadow in fine style too, bossing Ireland’s line with poise and authority, while Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw turned in performances critical to this win.
Sexton opened the scoring for Ireland with a penalty and traded kicks with Scott Spedding to make the score 6-6 before he was forced out of the action.
France spent all week threatening to take Sexton out of the game, and he lasted just 24 minutes. No 8 Picamoles’ thundering hit left Sexton prostrate before he trudged off, hiding his face with his shirt.
Sexton’s departure threw Madigan to the wolves but the Leinster stand-off fired a penalty to calm any nerves and edge Ireland 9-6 ahead. But Madigan’s punt then went out on the full and gifted France field position just when the half should have been up and, during France’s assault on the Irish line, O’Connell suffered either knee ligament damage or a torn hamstring.
Ireland refused to relent on their intensity after the turnaround, Iain Henderson replacing O’Connell and centre Henshaw maintaining his pivotal performance. The Connacht man stepped his way through France’s line before finding Tommy Bowe with a ball over the top. France knocked on in a try-line scramble and, from the scrum, Rob Kearney powered home for the game’s first try.
Morgan Parra nudged a penalty to reduced Ireland’s lead to just five points, teeing up a nervy final quarter. France attacked again but O’Brien forced a fine turnover before Ireland fired through the phases from a penalty lineout. Rory Best powered close, then Murray nipped home, placing the ball against the post to claim the try. Madigan’s conversion put Ireland 21-9 to the good, before he posted a penalty to seal the deal.
SCORERS: France - Pens: Spedding 2, Parra; Ireland - Tries: R. Kearney, Murray. Cons: Madigan. Pens: Sexton 2, Madigan 2.
FRANCE: Spedding, Nakaitaci, Bastareaud, Fofana, Dulin, Michalak, Tillous-Borde, Ben Arous, Guirado, Slimani, Pape, Maestri, Dusautoir, Chouly, Picamoles. Replacements: Dumoulin for Bastareaud (62), Tales for Michalak (55), Parra for Tillous-Borde (55), Debaty for Ben Arous (43), Kayser for Guirado (58), Mas for Slimani (63), Flanquart for Pape (73), Le Roux for Chouly (55).
IRELAND: R. Kearney, Bowe, Earls, Henshaw, D. Kearney, Sexton, Murray, Healy, Best, Ross, Toner, O’Connell, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip. Replacements: Fitzgerald for Earls (62), Madigan for Sexton (25), Reddan for Murray (76), McGrath for Healy (57), Strauss for Best (73), White for Ross (65), Henderson for O’Connell (40), Henry for O’Mahony (55).
Referee: N Owens (Wal)