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Friday 9 December 2016

Paul O'Connell's Ireland career hangs by a thread

Paul O'Connell, Ireland, shortly before leaving the pitch on a stretcher. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Paul O'Connell, Ireland, shortly before leaving the pitch on a stretcher. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Paul O'Connell, Ireland, sits back down on the pitch helped by Dr Eanna Falvey before being stretchered from the pitch after picking up an injury
Paul O'Connell, Ireland, is helped by Dr Eanna Falvey before leaving the pitch after picking up an injury. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell leaves the pitch on a stretcher after picking up an injury. 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool D, Ireland v France. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales

Paul O'Connell is likely to have his worst fears confirmed on Monday that both his World Cup and Test career are at end.

Captain and talismanic lock O'Connell will undergo scans on his hamstring injury in Cardiff, as Ireland count the sizeable cost of their bludgeoning 24-9 victory over France.

Ireland will face Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, with France meeting New Zealand.

Joe Schmidt's Ireland could be without O'Connell, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien if injuries and disciplinary concerns all fall the wrong way.

"Paul is the one who worries me most," Schmidt said.

"It doesn't look great with Paul. It's an upper hamstring.

"Johnny looks like an abductor to me. That's not a learned eye of a medic so we are probably going to get Johnny scanned tomorrow.

"Johnny was already talking about next week in the changing room but I'm not sure if that means he'll be playing or not.

"Pete didn't seem too bad so we're hopeful with Pete. I think it's a twist of the ankle or knee but he was walking pretty well in the changing room. Hopefully he'll be OK."

O'Mahony left the Millennium Stadium in a knee brace and on crutches, but both sets of apparatus could have been precautionary.

Sexton's groin problem could yet ease in time for him to face Argentina, but flanker O'Brien will be left to sweat on whether tournament discipline bosses opt to cite him for an alleged punch on France lock Pascal Pape.

Ireland boss Schmidt hopes Leinster back-rower O'Brien will be free to face the Pumas.

"I truly hope not," said Schmidt when asked if he expected to lose O'Brien's services.

"He was being held at the time, he swung but I don't think he was looking directly at the player but it's not for me to determine.

"It's not a closed fist. I'd be hopeful but it's not a decision for me.

"Hopefully it's not something that impacts on us.

"Considering the dressing room at the moment, we can ill-afford to lose another player, particularly a player of Sean's experience and standing in the group."

Prop Cian Healy admitted Ireland would summon extra motivation to reach a first World Cup semi-final if they lose O'Connell to injury.

"Hopefully Paul will be alright, but you get dealt those hands sometimes," said Healy.

"Being the fella he is and seeing how hard he's worked, that would be the case, you dig in and you'd want to put on a show for him.

"Hopefully he'll be okay, but if not then that will definitely give us extra motivation."

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