Ireland’s heroic victory over France sees them avoid the formidable All Blacks in the quarter-final, but at a cost as several big names were lost to injury.
Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony’s World Cup campaigns are over, as the nation waits to see if Jonathan Sexton will make it back in time for the knock-out stage.
Sexton was lost just 25 minutes in to the game, after a crunching tackle from Louis Picamoles, executing France’s plan to neutralise the fly-half’s dominance in the game perfectly.
But Ian Madigan stepped up to the table in fine form and proved his worth as he struck two penalties and a conversion successfully.
The magnitude of his performance hit home at the final whistle as he shed tears that he had guided his team to the unexpected 24-9 victory.
Rob Kearney and Conor Murray’s tries extended the 9-6 lead Ireland had battled for in the first half in which captain fantastic O’Connell was carried off with a potentially career-ending hamstring injury.
O’Mahony’s knee injury 14 minutes into the second half was another blow, with the Munster back-row an integral part of Ireland’s success in the World Cup so far, after his try-saving tackle against Italy’s Josh Furno a week previously.
Sean O’Brien, who won man-of-the-match, for his gutsy performance against France may also miss the quarter-final as France’s head coach Philippe Saint-Andre criticised officials for not punishing the Leinster flanker, for what he called an ‘assault’ on second row Pascal Pape, within the time frame of the match, in which he felt his side could have capitalised on playing against a 14-man team for 10 minutes.
“It was an assault 23 seconds into the game,” said Saint-Andre during his media debrief on Monday. “Why was it not acted on during the game? The players have an idea, so do I and I imagine you the media also have an idea.
“I hope that next time the TMO will really do his job. Since the beginning of the World Cup, there has been a review of the images for all sorts of matters, not just tries, but in this case they did no such thing.”
Ireland owe it to O’Connell and themselves to sustain the intensity.
After a memorable display of courage and commitment Ireland face another huge physical battle against Argentina.
By Phil Rice
When the players returned to their changing rooms after the ferocious battle last Sunday, the towering French lock Yoann Maestri made his way to the Irish room to enquire as to the health of his opposite number Paul O’Connell. “He is a very good person, a great leader.” He brought his jersey to swap with the great man but O’Connell had already departed to the University Hospital of Wales.
When told that he had probably played his last match for Ireland, Maestri said “I will see him when he recovers and plays for Toulon and have a drink with him. He is one of the great players.”
The casualty list was high for Ireland. Before the game everyone felt that Ireland’s two most significant players would be O’Connell and Sexton, yet before half-time both had departed the scene.
Concerned spectators witnessed the anguish on O’Connell’s face and feared the worst.
In the past this would have been a body blow from which they may not have recovered, but Joe Schmidt has built an unprecedented strength in depth to this Irish team and the two Ian’s, Madigan and Henderson, stepped up and were magnificent.
If ever proof were needed that to be successful in a World Cup you need a strong squad this was it and Ireland showed it in spades. Peter O’Mahony, another key player departed shortly afterwards only to be replaced by a barnstorming Chris Henry.
One after another the replacements took to the field and more than measured up to requirements. Jack McGrath, replacing the tireless Cian Healy, tore into the French front row, winning penalties which allowed Ireland to see out the game deep in French territory.
As with all sporting achievements their true measure is in the completion of the task and Ireland have another tall order this weekend when they face the impressive Argentinians. Success in world cups brings relentless pressure and demands, until the ultimate can be achieved.
Argentina have beaten Ireland in two of their three previous world cup encounters. The form they have shown in this World Cup has been impressive. They have always had a big physical pack but they are now complimented by a dangerous backline. Juan Hernandez is an outstanding player with sublime attacking skills and sleight of hand. He caused New Zealand all sorts of problems earlier in the tournament.
Since their inclusion in the Southern Hemisphere Championship they have worked hard to measure up to their more illustrious opposition and the pay-off is beginning to be seen. Ireland cannot afford to approach the game with any less intensity than last Sunday or that great victory will have been in vain.
Prior to the French game Joe Schmidt said “I love the game plan development, it’s what I get the most pleasure from.” Well to date his strategic planning has been flawless, but we have now reached the point of no return, one loss and we go home. O’Connell’s leadership will be missed but Schmidt’s contingency planning may just see Ireland progress to unchartered waters, a semi-final place.
Follow Ireland’s progress on www.irishrugby.ie