O’Connell retirement a bitter blow to Irish hopes at Rugby World Cup
Irish eyes are not smiling today, with the news that skipper Paul O’Connell has seen his international career end with being carried off against France in the Rugby World Cup Pool D decider on Sunday.
Three-time Six Nations winner and lock O’Connell, 35, has been a mainstay of Ireland’s team for more than a decade, but a torn hamstring against Les Bleus ends his involvement in a fourth World Cup.
It is a sad way for the Irish centurion’s time at the top to end, with compatriot, friend and predecessor as national captain Brian O’Driscoll taking to Twitter to express his sorrow. “This is so wrong on many levels,” he said. “One of the greatest leaders & players of them all. Inspirational.”
This is so wrong on many levels. One of the greatest leaders & players of them all. Inspirational. https://t.co/8blR5e2tJp
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) October 13, 2015
A haul of 108 caps for Ireland across a 13-year international career beginning in 2002 alone doesn’t tell the story. Centre O’Drsicoll leading the back row by example and O’Connell barking orders in the front made massive contributions to the Grand Slam triumph of 2009.
The Irish swept all-comers aside during an imperious Six Nations campaign, yet have never been able to reach those heights at a Rugby World Cup. O’Connell joining Peter O’Mahony in missing the rest of this tournament really weakens Joe Schmidt’s front row.
While Iain Henderson, who replaced O’Connell on Sunday, is likely to start their quarter-final; Leinster’s Mike McCarthy has been called up to take his squad spot and number eight Jamie Heaslip named new captain, losing such an inspirational leader is bound to affect the Ireland camp.
Last eight opponents Argentina will have their own morale boosted as a result, and their terrific 19/10 price with Coral to knock the Irish out in 80 minutes must now be seriously considered. Ireland fly half Jonny Sexton may also miss out with a groin problem and flanker Sean O’Brien facing a citation for punching Pascal Pape, which makes the Pumas’ price even more attractive to pounce.