Former Irish international Conor O’Shea fears that a huge injury toll will derail Ireland’s bid for World Cup glory.
The RTÉ pundit has described the intensity at this year’s tournament as “ferocious” admitting that if Ireland “were in a boat, I feel like we have been holed beneath the water line”.
He fears Ireland could sustain more injuries given the massive physicality Argentina will bring to Sunday’s quarter-final in the Millennium Stadium. “I know World Rugby are saying that the injury profile is not any different to previous RWCs, and indeed better than the 2007 version, but stats can lie.
“Some of the matches — and last Sunday’s more than others — have been ferocious and you wonder how the players will survive,” O’Shea wrote on his blog for RTÉ.ie.
“Look at the fallout for Ireland: no Paul O’Connell, no Peter O’Mahony, Johnny Sexton will be patched together if he makes it at all and Sean O’Brien has been cited and will no doubt be banned. They are the injuries we see, what you won’t see behind the scenes are the players recovering from the knocks they finished the game with.
“I describe the dressing rooms I see after matches like A&E in a hospital, these fellas deserve our respect but we must look after them.
“The aftermath of this game to me, despite the euphoria, has been tinged with realism. If we were in a boat, I feel like we have been holed beneath the water line.”
He continued: “Our replacements on the weekend, to a man, Ian Madigan, Chris Henry, Iain Henderson, Nathan White et al were outstanding, but there is a difference between starting and coming off the bench and mentally through the week we are now asking Ireland to play and prepare without the equivalent of Kieran Reid, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, guys who make New Zealand believe and the opposition fear, it’s just the nature of it.”
Yet the Harlequins boss still tips Ireland to defeat Argentina on Sunday but fears that this will be the end of the road for Ireland. “They are still raw-boned, tough, rugged men, but with the likes of Juan Imoff, Juan Martin Hernandez and Nicolas Sanchez out the back they have the firepower to hurt us.
“The Pumas are better than France, well coached and with good balance to their game. Up front the likes of Marcos Ayerza, Agustin Creevy and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will take the game to us. If we thought last week was intense, this will ratchet up another level again, and with the longer term in mind don’t be surprised if we win, but then face Australia in a semi-final down even more numbers.
“My expectation is that we will win by a score; the mental feelgood from the win against France will imbue enough confidence in the squad to see us through to our first semi, but my overall fear is that this group of players, who want so much more, will have suffered injuries which will be terminal to what they want to achieve.”
Meanwhile, Ulster coach Neil Doak has backed Iain Henderson “to step into the shoes” of the injured Paul O’Connell. Doak said: “The physical presence that he brings if phenomenal as you saw off the bench last weekend. He’s a big man and a definite threat with or without the ball as he proved against France. He knows he still a long way to go to learn the game. Paulie called the line-outs and was a real student in that area and that’s something that ‘Hendy’ will have to pick up in trying to be as good as his predecessor.”
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