Injuries, punch sour Ireland’s RWC win

Injuries to three key players and a Sean O’Brien punch mean Ireland face a nervous few days following a pulsating 24-9 win over France in their Pool D table-topping decider.

The victory at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Sunday ensured Ireland booked a quarter-final clash against Argentina next weekend and if they win that, a semi-final against either Australia or Scotland.

France, meanwhile, move into a quarter-final encounter against defending champions New Zealand.

While the Irish avoided the All Blacks, the triumph may have come at a high price.

Five-eighth Jonny Sexton limped from the field after 25 minutes, skipper Paul O’Connell was stretchered off at halftime and flanker Peter O’Mahony also departed on a stretcher.

“It doesn’t look great with Paul,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted.

“It looks like an upper hamstring, but we will probably have to wait until tomorrow to give it a scan and make sure the inflammation has decreased a little bit.

“It’s probably Paul that worries me of the three.”

Sexton kicked two early penalties and was on the end of two heavy tackles before his premature departure with a hip injury.

“It looked like an adductor to me, but it’s not the learned eye of a medic. So we are probably going to get Jonny scanned tomorrow,” Schmidt said.

On O’Mahony, the Kiwi coach added: “it didn’t seem too bad, we are hopeful with Pete. I think it’s a twisted ankle or knee. He was walking pretty well in the changing room and hopefully he’ll be OK”.

O’Brien, who was a lion in the loose at flanker, faces an anxious wait for a different reason.

Images showing O’Brien punching France second-rower Pascal Pape in the stomach in the first minute of the match have Irish fans fearing the No.7 may be banned.

O’Brien could be cited by a disciplinary commissioner, but Schmidt said he did not think O’Brien had punched intentionally.

“I truly hope not,” Schmidt replied when asked whether he thought O’Brien would face a ban.

“I think he was being held at the time, he swung, I don’t think he was looking directly at the player.

“Hopefully it’s not something that impacts on us considering the dressing room at the moment with the amount of injuries we have.

“We can ill afford to lose another player, particularly a player of Sean’s experience and standing in the group.”

Sexton kicked two early penalties for the Irish before going off. His replacement Ian Madigan kicked a penalty of his own and Scott Spedding booted two long-range efforts for France.

The Six Nations champions scored two second-half tries through Rob Kearney and Connor Murray, Madigan adding a conversion and late penalty.

France’s sole points in the second period came from a Morgan Parra penalty.

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