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Ireland's incredible display, costly toll and more talking points from Cardiff

Robbie Henshaw was magnificent, but Ireland lost a number of important players.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Millennium Stadium

IRELAND BEAT FRANCE 24-9 in Cardiff in their World Cup Pool D decider.

Read our match report here.

Barely believable balls

Tactical leader gone, Ireland simply shrugged it off and stuck to the plan. Ian Madigan delivered.

Captain gone, Ireland maintained their composure and battled on. Iain Henderson battered his way into the game.

Lineout supremo and turnover merchant gone. Chris Henry pounced to smash French carriers what seemed like 15 metres up the pitch.

Rob Kearney scores their first try supported by Robbie Henshaw Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was every excuse for Ireland to fold in Cardiff, every reason they could have pointed to for going into their shells. Instead, Joe Schmidt’s men reacted with one of their greatest performances.

This win goes beyond the Schmidt era even. This was ballsy beyond belief. One of the greatest Ireland performances of them all. Shorn of so many of their key leaders and facing an utterly brutal French defence, Ireland emerged dominant.

Their accuracy in attack, the ferocious breakdown competition, a superbly executed and chased kicking game, a set-piece that ended that game in a rampant position. One of the truly great displays from Ireland.

Standouts everywhere

Picking out brilliant individual performances in that collective is a hard task. Sean O’Brien delivered a performance that was quite literally incredible, constantly hammering past the first tackle, always winning the collisions.

His breakdown work and scrapping in the tight channels made life hellish for the French at times. We had hoped he would dominate a game like never before, and that’s what occurred. Easily man of the match.

Conor Murray was back to his best, the finish against the base of the post a delight, while Madigan was excellent in a difficult situation. Mike Ross at tighthead was simply sublime in a huge shift that lasted more than 65 minutes.

Alongside him in the front row, Rory Best showed that he is a world-class leader and breakdown specialist. Jack McGrath was superb off the bench, as were Iain Henderson and Chris Henry.

In the backline, Tommy Bowe showed his experience in the air and on the ball, while the Kearney brothers brought a fierce edge to every involvement. There was that huge miss for Keith Earls, but he showed defensive resilience too.

These memorable, momentous performances need stars, but Ireland had a whole cast of them.

Costly toll

Ireland move on to a quarter-final against Argentina with confidence greatly boosted, but quite possibly without four of their best players. Johnny Sexton, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony all left the field with what looked like serious injuries.

Sean O’Brien could be cited.

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Paul O'Connell down injured Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Their replacements were more than adequate, spectacularly good even, but these possible losses might be telling in a week’s time.

Sexton looked to hurt his groin when chasing down and slamming into Brice Dulin after Freddie Michalak got his hand to the Ireland out-half’s attempted garryowen. He then shipped a huge hit from Louis Picamoles after trying to play on.

He vomited on the pitch and then limped off in discomfort. O’Connell followed him at half-time, his hamstring apparently gone.

O’Mahony was sensational for 55 minutes in the back row, dominant in the lineout and so effective around the pitch too. His right knee appeared to give in as he made yet another carry inside the French 22, his agony again clear to see.

The feeling is that all three are serious, serious injuries but fingers will be crossed all around Ireland and in many other parts of the world. There is also the major concern that a citing is on the way for Sean O’Brien.

Paulie’s final day in green?

He tried to stand up, to walk off the pitch or at least be helped off with his arms around shoulders on either side. But Paul O’Connell fell back to the Cardiff turf, the sheer pain utterly evident.

If this is to be how the great man goes, it was horrible to watch. After taking on some gas to ease the pain, O’Connell was carted into the bowels of the Millennium Stadium to be assessed by Ireland’s medical team.

We will wait for the official prognosis, but this looked about as bad as it gets. It was somewhat typical that O’Connell went in the act of trying to pilfer possession from France, a sheer nuisance in every moment of the game.

Every rugby fan in the world will hope this isn’t the end of the Limerick man in the international game.

 Henshaw rules the midfield

All the pre-match chat had been about the mighty Mathieu Bastareaud and the genius of Wesley Fofana, but it was an Irish centre who ruled the midfield in the Millennium Stadium.

Robbie Henshaw and Frederic Michalak Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Still just 22 years of age, the Connacht man was a physical giant for Ireland. His break over the top of Bastareaud, followed up by an overhead basketball pass to Tommy Bowe laid the foundation for Rob Kearney’s try. He even made a second huge carry in that passage.

Aside from his prowess in the carry, Henshaw made some delightful passes, most notably the little disguised pop to Bowe for the butchered first-half try chance that saw Earls knock on.

Defensively, Henshaw was as effective as ever, laying his shoulder firmly into the stomachs of French carrier after French carrier. A masterclass from the midfielder.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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