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'When you get out on that pitch on Sunday, there'll be no one to hold your hand'

Paul O’Connell can’t help Ireland on the field, but Rory Best is confident there’ll be no shortage of heirs to the throne.

Sean Farrell reports from Cardiff

RORY BEST HAS no fear that Ireland’s 15 starters and eight replacements can each help fill the leadership void left by Paul O’Connell.

Paul O'Connell with Rory Best and Nathan White Source: Giuseppe Fama/INPHO

The Ireland captain has played his last international fixture after suffering a serious hamstring injury last weekend. Along with the skipper, Ireland have also lost Munster captain Peter O’Mahony and the brilliant impact of Sean O’Brien who is banned until semi-final weekend.

“While Paulie’s leadership is a loss,” says Best, “everyone now has to step up.n They’re not going to be held by the hand by Paulie driving them on.

“You have to take ownership of yourself now. I think it’s a good place to be as a squad coming in to a quarter-final.

Because when you get out on that pitch at one on Sunday, there will be no one to hold your hand. And I’d imagine, if it’s anything like last weekend, you’ll not be able to hear each other anyway.”

The hooker points at the leaders and experience still within the squad: from himself and Heaslip, the remaining provincial captains, to the quiet effectiveness of Mike Ross, playmakers Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney.

Though Jordi Murphy is indeed a fresh face after coming into the 23 to start at blindside and Iain Henderson is at the polar opposite stage of his career to O’Connell, there will be no shortage of men ready to put their hand up and to take responsibility.

“I don’t think there’s a need to consciously take on more (responsibility), that’s the reason we have a leadership group.” says the vice-captain.

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Guys will always stand up and do a bit more. It’s important you lead by example, stepping up, training well and making sure you play well. If you try to do too much and it affects that then it’s detrimental to you as a leader.”

Besides, head coach Joe Schmidt bases a great portion of his philosophy on squad competition. Competition means rotating now and then, especially in advance of a major tournament. So the use of a different array of faces in training and preparation means that the loss of key men is slightly less painful than it might have been in years past.

“We weren’t planning on Paulie or Pete to get injured, but when you look through the summer it wasn’t like, maybe ’07, where it was clear exactly what the pack was going to be.

All our sessions have been geared towards mixing combinations, making sure people are happy throwing to, or being lifted by other people. Everyone knows what’s going on. I think in the extreme eventuality we have now, that will stand to us.
“(running the line-out has) been left in the hands of Simon Easterby, Dev, Donnacha Ryan and Hendy. They’ve stepped into Paulie’s shoes, left no stone unturned to make sure we produce a line-out performance.”

Set-piece exploits will be a key facet of Best’s job against Argentina. The Pumas, behind their expansive attacking exploits, have also displayed an impressive maul which they fall back on whenever they need a score and the scrum has always been a threat that must be dealt with.

“Everyone’s looking for an advantage somewhere, everyone’s after a different angle,” Best says of the unusual challenge brought by the ‘Bajada’ scrum whereby locks bind around the waist of their props, flankers angle inwards and an extra weight of pressure is loaded onto the opposition hooker.

Rory McIlroy with Rory Best Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’ll try to put a plan in place. Ultimately, we have to make sure that we’re underneath, because they are a quality scrum. We know they’re going to come after us because that’s what they do no matter who they’re playing.”

The tone Ireland have looked to set all week long in Cardiff has been one of history-makers: the chance to be the first Ireland team to make it beyond the World Cup quarter-finals. With only two more sleeps to go, though, the same history is giving some outside of the squad some nagging doubts.

‘Used to winning knock-out matches’

“We’re all aware that (the record of quarter-final exits) is the case,” Best says with an easy smile before making light work of the pressure surrounding this fixture.

“Some of us have been watching rugby since 1987! So we’ve seen most World Cups… a lot of them weren’t born, right enough.

“Look, we know it’s the case, but for us it’s about winning a game. We’ve a lot of players who are used to winning knock-out games. It’s different from the pool matches.

“There’s no recovering from Sunday if we don’t perform. For us, it’s about making sure we’re prepared to win a game.”

Jonathan Sexton fit enough for inclusion in Ireland’s starting XV to face Argentina

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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