Ireland full-back Rob Kearney has summed up the mood of the squad in expressing his disappointment at the injury-enforced departure of Peter O’Mahony from the Rugby World Cup camp.
A knee ligament injury – sustained in the second half against France – means flanker Peter O’Mahony will play no further part in the tournament which resumes with four mouth-watering quarter-finals next weekend. Rhys Ruddock has been called up in his place.
Like Rob Kearney, O’Mahony was a key figure in Ireland’s unbeaten Pool D campaign and it is a big blow to lose such a talented back rower and natural leader as we enter the knockout stages.
The Munster captain turned in another hugely physical performance against les Bleus, an early turnover via a big tackle on Sebastien Tillous-Borde and four ground-gaining second half carries being the highlights.
Full-back Kearney, who is averaging a try per game at RWC 2015, said: “Pete was around last night and he was at breakfast this morning, so I’m not sure what time he is heading off. Everyone got to chat with him and console him a little bit. There is a massive togetherness in there and everyone was gutted to see him go.”
Ireland team manager Michael Kearney confirmed that O’Mahony is returning to Dublin today for ‘a specialist opinion’ on the injury that has ended his first Rugby World Cup.
It looks like captain Paul O’Connell will miss the rest of the competition after suffering a ‘significant’ hamstring injury, while the management also await scan results on out-half Jonathan Sexton’s groin injury.
It certainly was a bruising and attritional encounter with the French, and Rob Kearney admitted that the injuries to three such significant players took some gloss off Ireland’s rousing 24-9 victory.
“You never like to lose players through injury, especially ones of the calibre that we have lost. And the captain as well. But when you are in tournaments like this and the physicality is so great, you can see other teams suffering from it too.
“You don’t have a huge amount of time to sit around and think about it. We have got another massive Test match (against Argentina) in six days’ time. We’ve got to keep looking forward and get on with it, as cruel as it might sound.”
Asked if O’Connell fears his World Cup is over, the Louth man replied: “Yes, he probably does. The fact that he has been around more than any of us, especially at World Cups. It is difficult and I felt awful for him.
“But it was great to see the sheer delight after the game in terms of what we had achieved, as opposed to feeling sorry for himself. That was brilliant to see and a great sign of the man that he was able to put his own woes behind him and was able to think of the team first.
“He was just delighted and beaming from ear to ear. When you consider that he was so happy and ecstatic after the game and the pain he had been in at half-time, it’s little moments like that that make changing rooms after games so very special.”
Despite seeing Sexton and O’Connell sidelined by the interval, Kearney was confident that their replacements would step up to the plate and keep Ireland on track. Singling out Ian Madigan for praise, he revealed that the sight of his Leinster colleague in tears after the match has earned him a new nickname.
“I think at half-time there were probably mixed emotions. You are seeing your captain injured heavily and losing your out-half and your star man. But you’re filled with a huge amount of confidence when you see the likes of Ian Madigan and Iain Henderson coming on and their contribution to the game.
“The boys are calling him ‘Gazza’! I think it was a day where he really stood up. We needed him to come on and really take control of things (at out-half) and he did.”
Kearney was part of the Ireland squad that enjoyed a clean sweep of pool triumphs in New Zealand four years ago before losing in disappointing fashion to Wales at the quarter-final stage. He believes Joe Schmidt’s current crop are ‘a very different team’ compared to the class of 2011.
Looking ahead to next Sunday’s showdown with Argentina, he added: “We were here four years ago and topped the pool. Everyone thought we were brilliant and we went out and we got pumped by a really good Wales team.
“We don’t have much time to sit around and think about this great performance we had yesterday. We have to move on really quickly and, apart from the Australians, I think the Argentinians have probably been the most impressive side.
“Their ability to score points has been very, very strong throughout the tournament and we just need to make sure that we are focused as quickly as we can be.
“It is different to four years ago because we are a very different team. Our mental strength in terms of how we approach games on a week-to-week basis has improved massively and this will be a big test for us.”