Paul O’Connell was planning to contact Toulon last night to hear his new club’s take on reports that it had been caught up in a criminal investigation involving pharmacists who are alleged to have illegally supplied the club with substances such as antibiotics and growth hormones.
Club president Mouard Boudjelall has insisted that the three-time European champions are “not affected by this doping affair” while the Marseille prosecutor, Brice Robin, has expressed concern over media reports of “doping” with the inquiry at such an early stage.
“Some of the lads told me about it before training, they’d obviously been reading a news website,” O’Connell told TV3. “So I don’t know anything about it, but I’ll be making a phone call this afternoon to see what the story is. It’s not a great thing to hear at all, no.
“Hopefully there’s a sensible explanation for it.”
O’Connell has more immediate concerns right now given Ireland’s defeat to England in London last Saturday on the back of a performance which fell some way short of the standards set previously in the Joe Schmidt era.
It was a display that, combined with the side’s loss to Wales seven days earlier, has served to dilute the feelgood factor under which the now 31-man Rugby World Cup squad had prepared for much of the summer.
That may be no bad thing according to the captain who described the stuttering display in the English capital as “a reminder of where we are and where we need to be” after the euphoria of winning two successive Six Nations championships.
“There’s no panic,” O’Connell continued, “but you’d always be anxious and you’d love to have won one of those two games, or certainly to have performed better in both of them, but we didn’t and you just have to address that then.”
Whatever about recent form and how significant or otherwise it may be in the bigger picture, there is no denying the fact that Ireland have come through their four Rugby World Cup warm-up ties with remarkably few injuries.
Tommy O’Donnell was the only man to fall foul in that sense, the Munster flanker missing out having suffered a hip injury in Cardiff last month, and there was further encouragement at an open training session at the RDS yesterday where Cian Healy was bullocking about the place.
Rob Kearney’s return to full fitness from the blow he took to a knee against Wales in Dublin two weekends ago left him clocking up little more than shuttle runs in Ballsbridge while Conor Murray is also on a slowly-slowly schedule as he follows return-to-play protocols.
Leinster prospects Josh van der Flier and Harrison Brewer, as well as Connacht’s Dave McSharry chipped in for the session, before the players were demobbed and allowed back to the care of their provinces prior to regrouping at the end of the week in Carton House.
From there, it is off to England and the hope is that the Irish side hits the ground running in a pool containing Canada, Romania, Italy and France.
“I don’t know if you’re ever fully confident that it will all click,” said O’Connell. “I’m confident that everyone will work as hard as they possibly can to get it right.
“It’s one of the things we’ve been really good at in recent years, when we’ve lost games we’ve generally corrected ourselves very well the week after with a very good performance and we didn’t do that the last two weeks.
“But hopefully now the focus of the World Cup coming and it being a smaller group, hopefully we can have some big days.”
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