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Captain O'Connell delighted to see Tommy O'Donnell excel for Ireland

The Cahir native jumped into the starting XV at a late stage after Sean O’Brien pulled out.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadio Olimpico

PERHAPS NOT THE ideal way to find out that you’re making your first Six Nations start, but Paul O’Connell assures us Tommy O’Donnell was as ready as anyone could have been.

Tommy O'Donnell is congratulated on scoring their second try of the game O'Donnell [7] gets the congratulations of his teammates after a wonderful try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A late injury to Ireland openside flanker Sean O’Brien during the warm-up for this afternoon’s clash with Italy at Stadio Olimpico meant O’Donnell was promoted from the bench into the starting XV.

A stunning try was the highlight of a hugely impressive performance from the Munster back row, as he topped Ireland’s tackle count with 12 and made a total of nine big carries, as well as featuring prominently in the rucks.

O’Connell, a teammate of the Cahir man’s at Munster, was unsurprised.

“His stats all year have been incredible and sometimes powerful guys find it hard to combine the power with the fitness, but he’s one of those rare kind of guys that has both of them,” said O’Connell after Ireland’s 26-3 win in Rome.

I’ve seen it at Munster for the last few months – every time I get off the ground, he seems to be either carrying the ball or tackling someone. I think a big part of his thing is how well he prepares.

“For a guy like Tommy to come in the last minute like he did today, you’d have absolutely no worries because he prepares incredibly well for games. I’m disappointed for Sean; it was great to see him back after the long journey he’s been through.

But at the same time I was delighted for Tommy and delighted to see him score the try. He makes those big carries with Munster a lot, it’s great to see him do it for Ireland.”

Losing a figure like O’Brien seemed like it had the potential to unsettle Ireland, shake their well-laid and detailed plans. However, O’Connell says Joe Schmidt’s lack of fuss around the late change was typical of how Ireland deal with these situations.

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Luca Morisi and Tommy O'Donnell O'Donnell was an abrasive presence in Rome. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You now what, [it affected us] very little,” said the Ireland captain. “We came in after the warm-up and Joe just said ‘Tommy’s in for Seanie and Robbie Diack is on the bench.’

“It’s happened a few times before, obviously last year in the first game of the championship [against Scotland] where I was sick and Dan Tuohy stepped in. The way the bench and the 24th and 25th man are put under pressure and encouraged to prepare, it tends not to affect us a whole lot.

There was very little said about it. Tommy got a few claps on the back once he picked up the seven jersey and we got on with it then. It was fairly seamless I thought.”

O’Connell admitted Ireland’s performance wasn’t totally pleasing, even if there was happiness to exit Stadio Olimpico with a convincing win in the end.

There is now the possibility of Schmidt bringing Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip back into his starting team to face France next weekend, even if Ian Keatley and Jordi Murphy performed well at out-half and number eight in Rome.

“There’s no doubt the two boys have a lot of experience,” said O’Connell of Sexton and Heaslip. “Johnny plays a captain role, Jamie is a former Ireland captain and current Leinster captain.

“They both have a lot of caps between them, a lot of experience between them. I think the way the squad has broadened in the last few years with various injuries, it’s been a great thing for us.”

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