By Brendan O’Brien
No prizes for guessing who dominated the agenda at Ireland’s team HQ on Tuesday.
With captain Paul O’Connell ruled out of the remainder of the World Cup with a severe hamstring tear and due for surgery later in the week, Joe Schmidt’s side has been dealt a hefty if expected blow as they prepare to face Argentina in Sunday’s quarter-final.
“It’s a massive loss to lose Paulie and Pete (O’Mahony) obviously as well,” said flanker Chris Henry. “Captain and one of your vice captains as well. We were relieved that the weekend went well for us and delighted that we put in probably our best performance obviously.
“It’s very, very sad as a player group to lose Paul after everything he’s given to this country and the way he’s played for so many years. To not have him come out with us this weekend, there’s no denying that it’s really tough for him and gutting for all of us players.”
It was Henry who on Sunday revealed that O’Connell had set the tone for the Pool D victory over France, his reminder that being clinical in their jobs wasn’t enough on a day when sheer guts and passion would go so far towards deciding their fate,
And when Ireland walk out at the Millennium Stadium again this Sunday, Henry admitted that they will be seeking to do justice to their absent teammates – O’Connell, O’Mahony and Jared Payne – as much as themselves.
With three senior players now ruled out with injury and doubts persisting as to Jonathan Sexton’s well-being, this moment marks the litmus test in Schmidt’s attempts to build up a broader squad and one where players of all ages can stand up and be counted.
Robbie Henshaw showed that youth is no barrier to leadership against the French with a stunning performance in the Irish midfield and Henry has no doubts but that there are sufficient chiefs in the Irish encampment to build on the progress to date.
The team talk, he admitted, will write itself this week.
“There’s a lot at stake and Jamie (Heaslip, the new captain) 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. Not too many words will be needed.
“Paul and Peter set the tone for what followed on the pitch last week. Hopefully that’s some small solace for them. They were playing unbelievably. That’s the heart-breaking thing. 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.
“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.”