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'Paulie's speech had everyone in tears before the game'

‘We knew we’d be going somewhere deeper,’ explains Chris Henry.

Sean Farrell reports from the Millennium Stadium

ONE LAST RALLYING cry.

Paul O’Connell didn’t know it at the time, but after promising the Irish public a performance against France, he inspired his team to great feats before leading them out for his 108th and final cap.

Yoann Maestri and Paul O'Connell Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland were outweighed in most areas of the pitch, but the captain in the second row had sent them out at the optimum emotional pitch to be absolutely ferocious in every contact.

“Paulie spoke really well before the game; he had everyone in tears,” explained Chris Henry after providing a telling impact when called on to replace the injured Peter O’Mahony.

“I know every player is just desperate to get Paulie back because, if that’s his last outing in a green jersey, it will be very, very sad.”

Extremely sad. It was devastating to watch the great totem of Irish Rugby’s 21st century stricken on the ground, then unable to walk off even when aided. The stretcher took him down the tunnel when the rest of the players were already fully immersed in their half-time team-talk.

“Before the match we talked about being clinical and taking our chances, all these buzzwords, but today we knew it was going to take more from us and we’d be going somewhere deeper.

“The words Paulie provided definitely got the best of everyone.”

Nigel Owens checks on Chris Henry Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Hope of a return is all but lost for O’Connell. So while he may be able to offer words of encouragement to his squad, they must compete without their athletic leader from here on in.

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Perhaps that’s the price you pay for ramping up the levels of physicality. Every player crossing the line knows there will be a toll, on Sunday night in Cardiff, Ireland’s was lengthy.

While the outlook is almost certainly bad for O’Connell and poor for O’Mahony, the early prognosis appears better for the groin injury sustained by Jonathan Sexton when chasing a half-blocked kick. Whatever the scans reveal, the manner in which Ireland remained on top even when shorn of their pack and back-line leaders was immensely impressive.

“In other years there would have been doubts when he (Sexton) came off, we would have gone into ourselves probably. But it shows that in this squad, we have complete faith in one another. When (Ian) Madigan came on he did really well and he lifted everyone.”

Some contributions, though, can’t be replaced.

Ian Madigan’s tears after beating France will make you proud to be Irish

Farewell to Paul O’Connell, the greatest leader Ireland ever had

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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