Rugby: Ireland suffer double blow with loss of two players, France plot New Zealand upset

France's fly half Remi Tales (left) tackles Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between in Cardiff, Wales, on Sunday.
France's fly half Remi Tales (left) tackles Ireland's flanker Sean O'Brien during a Pool D match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between in Cardiff, Wales, on Sunday. PHOTO: AFP

CARDIFF (REUTERS) - Ireland's Rugby World Cup campaign suffered massive blows on Tuesday when iconic captain Paul O'Connell was ruled out injured for the rest of the tournament and flanker Sean O'Brien was suspended for the quarter-final clash against Argentina.

O'Connell, whose international career is now over, sustained a hamstring injury in the 24-9 win over France in the Pool D decider.

Ireland will head into Sunday's game hampered by the loss of their main lock forward, flanker Peter O'Mahony and O'Brien, who was handed a one-week ban for punching French lock Pascal Pape last Sunday.

They were also sweating on the fitness of flyhalf Johnny Sexton, who picked up a groin injury against France. "Paul O'Connell suffered a significant hamstring injury and will undergo surgery this week," the Irish Rugby Football Union said in a statement. "Paul will not play again at Rugby World Cup 2015."

Mike McCarthy has been called into the squad as a replacement. "It's a massive loss to lose Pauly and yer man Pete (O'Mahony) as well - your captain and one of your vice-captains," flanker Chris Henry said.

France had no injuries to worry about but they were trying to convince themselves that despite a poor performance against Ireland, they could upset New Zealand for the third time in a World Cup game on Saturday.

"If we don't raise our level, it is certain that we won't continue in the competition," fullback Brice Dulin said. "We're not going to go through it if we give the ball away like Sunday and if we spend our time defending. Let's just play rugby."

There is no chance, however, that New Zealand will under-estimate the French, who upset them in the 1999 semi-finals and 2007 quarters.

"You've got to prepare for the old French flair. We are preparing for the top French team to turn up this weekend and I am sure that's what we are going to get," All Blacks number eight Kieran Read said.

If emotions were running high in the Irish camp, it was strictly business as usual for Australia as they geared up for Sunday's clash with Scotland.

Captain Stephen Moore and centre Matt Giteau are on the verge of winning their 100th caps, but they were focused on the Twickenham game. "For me, it's not really a week to be reflecting on things," Moore said.

Wales called winger Eli Walker into their squad as a replacement for the injured Liam Williams but he will not be available for selection against South Africa on Saturday.

"Alex Cuthbert and George North will be likely on the wing. If you look at South African strengths, see the way they play, it's going to be an aerial battle so they will be best off on the wings to negate that threat," Wales attack coach Rob Howley said.

A symbol of that threat, South Africa winger Bryan Habana, believes his team have the ability to become the first side to win the Webb Ellis trophy after losing a pool game.

"This team definitely has the same potential (as that of 2007) to go on and achieve something great," he said.