Ireland captain O’Connell out of World Cup, test career over

Getty Images

A hamstring injury has ruled Paul O’Connell out of the remainder of the Rugby World Cup, ending the international career of one of Ireland’s greatest players and delivering another major setback to the squad ahead of the quarterfinal against Argentina.

The 35-year-old O’Connell will undergo surgery on what Ireland team management described Tuesday as a “significant” hamstring injury he sustained in the 24-9 win over France on the weekend. He was replaced in the squad by Mike McCarthy.

“This is so wrong on many levels,” another Ireland great, Brian O’Driscoll, posted on Twitter. “One of the greatest leaders & players of them all. Inspirational.”

With flanker Peter O’Mahony ruled out of the tournament on Monday with a knee injury and star flyhalf Jonny Sexton struggling with an adductor problem, Ireland has a big leadership vacuum to fill. Openside flanker Sean O’Brien could also be missing after being cited for swinging his forearm into France lock Pascal Pape’s stomach during Sunday’s game.

O’Connell had previously said he’d be retiring from international rugby after the World Cup, and finishes his international career with 115 test caps, including 108 for Ireland – third on the country’s all-time list – and seven for the British and Irish Lions. He won three Six Nations titles and a series win with the British and Irish Lions in 2013. He was in the starting XV 99 games for Ireland and captained the team 28 times.

After spending all his club career with Munster, he signed a two-year deal with French giant Toulon for what could be his final seasons in rugby. That spell may be truncated because of surgery.

The injuries to O’Mahony and Sexton also came in the brutal match against the French, which Ireland won to top Pool D and avoid a quarterfinal against defending champion New Zealand. Outside center Jared Payne was ruled out of the tournament on Saturday because of a foot injury.

The squad enjoyed some light-hearted relief on Monday when players took to the golf practice range with Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who was visiting the team base. There was plenty of laughter when Luke Fitzgerald – urged to “grip it and rip it” by his teammate – let his club slip mid-shot and it went flying 30 meters forward. The golf ball, meanwhile, toppled off the tee and came to rest a couple of inches in front.

Captured on camera, the video has become a YouTube hit, with nearly 150,000 views.

It was back to the serious stuff on Tuesday as the squad returned to training and coach Joe Schmidt tried to figure out how to replace potentially five of his first-choice players against Argentina.

Jamie Heaslip will take over the captaincy, Iain Henderson is set to replace O’Connell in the second row, and Chris Henry likely will come in for O’Mahony on the blindside flank. Henry only returned to the Ireland team in May after having a mini-stroke ahead of Ireland’s November test with South Africa last year.

The 30-year old Henry underwent surgery to fix a small hole that was discovered in his heart.

Sexton’s absence would be a major setback – he is arguably the best No. 10 in Europe – but Ian Madigan showed in his superb display against France that Ireland has a strong alternative at flyhalf.

World Rugby postponing July test matches

AP Photo
1 Comment

World Rugby has postponed July test matches involving southern and northern hemisphere nations because of ongoing restrictions on international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s international governing body issued a statement Friday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.

New Zealand had been scheduled to play Wales and Scotland, Australia was set to play Ireland and Fiji and South Africa had planned to host Scotland and Georgia. World Rugby said the postponement is due “to ongoing government and health agency COVID-19 directives.”

Bill Beaumont re-elected as World Rugby chairman

AP Photo

Former England captain Bill Beaumont has been re-elected as World Rugby chairman on Saturday after beating Agustín Pichot, the current vice-chairman.

The sport’s governing body says the 68-year-old Beaumont achieved a first-round majority of 28 votes to 23.

Beaumont says: “I am honored to accept the mandate of the World Rugby Council to serve as the international federation’s chairman once again.”

He begins his four-year term after a council meeting on May 12.

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte becomes Beaumont’s new vice-chairman.