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David Wallace: Incredible O’Connell can still inspire injury-hit Ireland to achieve history

15 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
David Wallace: Incredible O’Connell can still inspire injury-hit Ireland to achieve history

The Betway ambassador pays tribute to his retiring friend and former teammate who can still have a big influence on Ireland's quarter-final fate

I cannot remember a display from an Irish team that was quite as dominant in terms of attitude and physicality as the performance put in against France.

If we can play like that in every game then there is no reason why we cannot win this World Cup, but that is easy to say and much harder to do in practice since the players are not robots.

Such intense, physical rugby takes a huge amount out of the team – and that was shown by the injuries we sustained on Sunday.

You cannot begin to weigh up the loss of someone like Paul O’Connell.

It is very hard to put into words just what he means – not only to the teams that he has represented but also the players that he has played against, many of whom have come out during the last few days to express their utmost respect for him as a warrior and a competitor.

I had the honour of playing with him for Munster, Ireland and the Lions – and it is only to witness him at close hand that you can get the full benefit of his character.

On the pitch he had a talismanic presence and was like a strict principal, but off it he was the life and soul of the group who was just as much craic as the best of them.

To command that respect and give your teammates a psychological edge in getting them up for a game while also making them feel at ease by being a bit of a joker is a very hard thing to do and he struck a perfect balance.

He cared about his teammates and the people around them – I witnessed countless times when he would have a few tidbits on young players coming into the squad and their families in order to make them feel welcome.poc-wallaceI remember one occasion a year or so ago when my nephew visited Carton House in order to get a ball signed and Paul went straight over to greet my sister-in-law.

She was gobsmacked that he even recognised her since he had only met her once on the Lions tour in 2009, but that was a mark of the man.

Paul is also a real scholar of the game and is easily the sharpest operator that I have ever come across in terms of a line-out operator and reading defences.

I know that he is staying around the camp to help out and has been passing on advice to Devin Toner, Iain Henderson and Donnacha Ryan so his knowledge and brains will still be there to some extent, but he will still be a big loss going forward.

To also be missing Peter O’Mahony to injury and Sean O’Brien to a ban for striking Pascal Pape is far from ideal.

At the time it would probably have been a penalty and a yellow card but when you look at it in the cold light of day it is judged differently.

Rugby is a physical sport, you are fired up at the start of a game and players know that if they hold somebody back then they are probably going to get a bump for it.

I can understand exactly why he did it – I probably would have done the same myself.

Even if Johnny Sexton is not fully fit on top of the other absentees then Ireland will deal with it.

They have had to cope with a lot of injuries during the past couple of seasons and that has given us a great opportunity to blood new faces so we have a very competitive squad that is vying for every position.madigan-henryIain Henderson has been the form player during the World Cup, Chris Henry was arguably the most consistent performer during the warm-up games and Ian Madigan played with a lot of confidence when he came on against France and added a lot of pace to the game.

Ireland will learn a lot of lessons from the previous World Cup where they rose to a similar challenge to beat Australia by one point and top the pool only for it all to fall asunder in the quarter-final against Wales when they went off the boil.

There are enough guys who are still around from then to know that if they are even a little bit off then they will come a cropper.

Argentina will certainly offer a much stiffer challenge than France.

They are probably the most physical team that you will come across in international rugby by a factor of two or three – that is my memory of playing against them – and they also have some real firepower out wide.

They will have a lot of confidence as one of the form teams during the pool stages who pushed New Zealand all the way, and there is something about their character that means they love playing on the world stage.

Having been beaten by them in 1999 and 2007 everybody knows just how hard a game it is going to be.

Losing so many players has probably dampened people’s expectations a little bit, but that might not do Ireland any harm since it takes a little bit of pressure off the team.

This is arguably the biggest game in all of these guys’ careers to date, but if they can hit the same levels as they did last weekend then there is no reason why we cannot come out on top and reach our first ever semi-final.

Ireland v Argentina match betting

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