The Irish grip on the RBS 6 Nations trophy loosened at Stade de France on Saturday as the French ground out a 10-9 victory to leave the visitors’ hopes of a third successive title all but dead after two rounds of the 2016 championship. And ambitions to finally get their campaign up and running in game three on February 27 received a dent as head coach Schmidt effectively ruled his back-row powerhouse O’Brien out of the selection equation along with wing Kearney.
The pair were first-half withdrawals with Mike McCarthy and Johnny Sexton following them to the treatment table after the interval. Lock McCarthy suffered a concussion while fly-half Sexton, once again the focus of heavy attention from the French team having been hit off the ball by Yoann Maestri in the opening 40 minutes, was withdrawn in the 69th minute for what Schmidt described as a “culmination of blows”.
Dave Kearney could spend the rest of this Six Nations on the sidelines after damaging the AC joint in his right shoulder after taking a high hit from France captain Guilhem Guirado that warranted at least a yellow card but went unsanctioned and unnoticed by referee Jaco Peyper and his television match official.
Yet O’Brien’s injury could most hurt Ireland’s hopes of a first win in 2016 coming at Twickenham in 12 days after the openside flanker looked to have torn a hamstring just 20 minutes in against the French. The back rower had returned to the side having missed the first-day draw to Wales six days earlier having complained of a tight hamstring during the build-up to the home opener. He was carrying in the French half and out of contact when he seemed to jar his knee as he planted a foot in the turf before lying prone face down in the turf before medical help arrived, O’Brien eventually hobbling from the field to leave Schmidt with another injury headache.
“I haven’t got my head around too much of what we’ll be looking to do against England, we’ll use the next couple of days to assess who we’ve got fully fit,” the head coach said.
“It’s unlikely that Sean O’Brien or Dave Kearney will be available and that’s a disappointment. Mike McCarthy, we’ll have to wait and see.
“It probably doesn’t help when the list is already quite substantial. The one thing I can’t fault the players for is their attitude and their effort and we have just got to keep trying with that.
“If it does mean new guys come in, they’ll come in with the right attitude and effort.” Earlier Schmidt had said at his post-match press conference: “Losing Sean early in the match was a blow. He had trained really well during the week and was highly motivated for this game.”