PAUL O’Connell moved his team-mates to tears with his pre-match battlecry against France, but Chris Henry believes the absent skipper can still inspire Ireland’s emotional fire against Argentina.
Ulster flanker Henry revealed he shed a tear at O’Connell’s tub-thumping rhetoric ahead of Sunday’s superlative 24-9 victory over France at the Millennium Stadium.
It would be incredible to do something special for Paul and Pete”CHRIS HENRY
Now the battling loose-forward believes few words will be required for Ireland to psych themselves up for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final against the Pumas.
O’Connell’s World Cup and Test career are at an end after Ireland confirmed the 35-year-old requires surgery to repair his torn hamstring, but Henry backed Ireland to cope without their talisman and also knee injury victim Peter O’Mahony.
“The team talk does write itself ultimately this week,” said Henry, waiting in the wings to start Sunday’s quarter-final.
“There’s a lot at stake and Jamie (Heaslip) 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. 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.
“Paul and Pete set the tone for what followed on the pitch last week, and, hopefully, that’s some small solace for them. 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 one per cent 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. He just keeps going when there’s a brick wall in front of him. If we can use that as inspiration, then we will.”
Hopes were high yesterday that linchpin fly-half Johnny Sexton may yet recover from his groin problem to face the Pumas in Cardiff as Ireland eye a first- ever World Cup semi-final.
Sean O’Brien, though, was yesterday handed a one-week ban following his apparent punch to France lock Pascal Pape’s ribs.
The 26-year-old will miss Sunday’s Argentina clash, which means Ireland will need to replace two of their three first-choice back-row forwards.
Leinster flanker Rhys Ruddock has replaced the luckless O’Mahony in Ireland’s ranks, and will go straight into contention to face Argentina. Less than four months ago, Ruddock was ruled out of Ireland’s campaign with a broken arm – now the 24-year-old could be in line to win just his sixth cap and make his World Cup debut.
“I’ve had opportunities like this before, I was called up from the Under-20s World Cup aged 19 and told to put on a Test jersey,” said Ruddock, referencing his Ireland debut against Australia in 2010. I really enjoyed that opportunity, and the same in the autumn just gone. You play to play at the top level, so I’m looking forward to it and I’m ready. I feel good.
“I had to change my focus after my injury, I just had to work on my fitness and my skills. I’ve put plenty of time into that and I’m looking forward to it.”
Ruddock revealed O’Mahony wished him luck on hearing the Leinster flanker was taking his place in the Ireland squad.
“That’s the mark of the man,” said Ruddock. “It was the night he got the injury. He texted me to say he was delighted to hear I was coming over. It shows what a quality bloke he is.
“That would be the last thing on most people’s minds, absolute gent.”