I’ve played against Paul O’Connell a few times, and he has an incredible presence as a player, and as a man. We’ve met previously outside of rugby and he’s the type of guy who just has this incredible aura. My Sale team-mate Peter Stringer was saying this week that he’s never met a player or a captain like O’Connell. He has the kind of attitude where you know if you’re on his team, he’s 100 per cent behind you. He holds a room when he speaks, and he’s led club and country for so long in so many successful teams, it is phenomenal to see.
Obviously missing a player of O’Connell’s quality is a massive loss, but he’s staying with the squad which is crucial. His leadership and his influence will still be very prevalent. Iain Henderson came on against France and left his mark, so clearly there is a lot of depth to the Irish squad and they have a number of great athletes and top players who can step up when needed.
Undoubtedly you’re going to miss a player of O’Connell’s stature, but the team are still strong enough to still have a chance of winning this World Cup.
In regard to Sean O’Brien’s one-week ban for punching France’s Pascal Pape, the people making the disciplinary decisions are weighing up the fact that it’s a World Cup. If Ireland get through to the semi-final, which they should, they will want O’Brien playing.
If it wasn’t a World Cup O’Brien would have got a longer ban.
The authorities seem to have made examples of other players in other teams – Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi for example. In Tuilagi’s case a knee was raised in the defeat to Japan, but the five weeks he received is a very excessive ban, at the most that should be a two week ban. Whereas it’s a bit different when you’ve lashed out at someone like O’Brien.
It’s the game of rugby, and sometimes emotions run high. Some players are highly strung and some aren’t, but it comes down to the situation. O’Brien doesn’t have a bad disciplinary record, he isn’t a nasty type of player but these things happen on the pitch.
It isn’t difficult for someone of Ian Madigan’s character and talent to come off the bench and replace Johnny Sexton like he did against France. Madigan is a player who clearly has a very good temperament and he’s played in a lot of big games already. He’s clearly very talented and he has a mature head on his shoulders so he’s fit into the Ireland set-up seamlessly. It’s difficult to replace a player of Sexton’s standard, but Madigan is very impressive.
It is dangerous to write off Argentina in the quarter-final. Nicolas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez are extremely talented players, and the full-back Joaquin Tuculet is very dogged and tireless. They can really put it up to the Irish lads.
Playing in the Rugby Championship for the last couple of years now has helped Argentina improve significantly.
If Ireland can come through unscathed it puts them in a great position heading into the semi-final, but it is a big challenge.
It’s frustrating for Scotland to have lost Ross Ford and Jonny Gray to suspensions, but you can’t let that effect the squad. The team just have to get on with it now, and the Scots do have talented replacements coming in. If Scotland are going to win this quarter-final clash they will have to have the game of their lives. But if there was ever a stage or an opportunity to do it on, the World Cup is perfect.
Scotland have a slight advantage of being able to play with a bit more freedom and a little less pressure as the underdogs. It’s hard to see any side managed by Michael Cheika being complacent however.
Scotland have to go out and blitz Australia for 20-30 minutes and just hope they can hold on.
Australia’s form going into the World Cup, and what they’ve shown during the Pool stage, has been outstanding. It’s going to be a tough match for Scotland and they will have to go out and execute a game plan at a highly skilled level.
It’s hard to see past an Australia win.