Ireland face World Cup selection quandary
14 Oct 2015 - 17:04
Cardiff, UK: Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will have to rejig his team for the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina with injury and suspension ruling out three players although there is still hope Jonny Sexton will be fit.
A moment of madness in the opening seconds of the 24-9 victory over France by Sean O'Brien came back to haunt the star flanker Tuesday.
The World Rugby disciplinary committee banned O'Brien for a week for hitting France lock Pascal Pape.
His suspension was a further blow to an Ireland team that suffered injuries to two key forwards in the brutal win over the French.
Captain Paul O'Connell (hamstring) and blindside flanker Peter O'Mahony (knee), two towers in the line-out, both suffered World Cup-ending injuries.
Their news followed the withdrawal of influential centre Jared Payne, who returned home last week with a foot fracture.
There are also doubts over playmaker Sexton, who is struggling with a groin injury which forced him off in the first-half of the pool game which saw the Irish seal top spot and avoid a last eight meeting with defending champions New Zealand.
But assistant coach Greg Feek said there was a degree of confidence that Sexton would be fit.
"Jonny did about, I think, three-and-a-half kilometres running," Feek said of the fly-half's training session on Wednesday.
Ireland called up Mike McCarthy and Rhys Ruddock as replacements for O'Connell and O'Mahony, but there has as yet been no back-up flown in to cover Payne.
The back three options Schmidt has should be adequate for the Argentina game at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Sunday -- a match which if the Irish win will see them reach the semi-finals for the first time.
While Schmidt and his coaching staff will be scratching their heads going through the possible line-ups, prop Jack McGrath said the wider Irish squad were prepared for injury-led disruption.
"In the November internationals I think there were 12 injuries and guys have stepped up," McGrath said.
"Even in the bigger squad of 50 during summer training we knew that players would have to be used eventually so everyone is on the same page."
No 8 Jamie Heaslip will likely take over the captain's armband from O'Connell, who is due to undergo an operation this week.
Flanker Chris Henry, in line to start in O'Brien's absence, said Heaslip's experience would see him comfortably fill O'Connell's boots.
"We're lucky we've got a big senior players group, we're a pretty experienced side and most of us have been around the block a bit," Henry said.
"Jamie has done a terrific job and we've got leaders throughout the team who are ready to step up to the plate."
Henry added that there was an added incentive after losing players to injury.
"There's a bit," he said. "The players that are here, we know we've a chance of making history this weekend - that adds to the pressure but in the past two years we've risen to the pressure."