Ireland avoids All Blacks as injury toll rises

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Injuries to Jonathan Sexton, Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony marred an impressive 24-9 victory over France that ensured Ireland secured top spot in Pool D at the Rugby World Cup on Monday (AEDT).

Rob Kearney and Conor Murray claimed the only tries of a bruising encounter as Joe Schmidt's men delivered an impressive display at the Millennium Stadium to book a quarter-final meeting with Argentina and leave their opponent with the daunting task of facing defending champion New Zealand in the last eight.

However, Ireland's success came at a significant cost as influential fly-half Sexton limped off in the first half prior to skipper O'Connell and O'Mahony each leaving the field on a stretcher.

O'Connell's distinguished international career may well have come to an end given the apparent seriousness of the injury to his right leg, while Sexton looked to be wiping away tears as he left he field.

Keith Earls was also forced off in the second half, although it was unclear whether the versatile back had suffered a setback that could jeopardise his future participation in the tournament, and Sean O'Brien could well face disciplinary action after television replays showed him punching Pascal Pape in the stomach early on.

The initial action was predictably intense, but Frederic Michalak - Ireland's chief tormentor in past World Cup meetings between the sides - failed to land two early penalty attempts and it was Sexton who opened the scoring after Mathieu Bastareaud had been penalised for offside.

It was a case of third-time lucky from the tee for France as Scott Spedding levelled the score from distance and the full-back responded to another Sexton three-pointer after a high tackle from O'Mahony.

A major setback for Ireland came when Sexton found himself on the receiving end of a crunching tackle from Louis Picamoles and limped off in obvious distress.

The fly-half's replacement, Ian Madigan, landed a penalty to restore Ireland's lead, but Earls wasted an excellent opportunity to register the game's first try soon after, knocking on with the line beckoning after Tommy Bowe's break from a rehearsed set-piece move.

Schmidt's men then suffered another huge blow as vastly experienced skipper O'Connell collapsed in agony at a ruck on the stroke of half-time.

Ireland nevertheless began the second half on the front foot and an impressive spell of pressure culminated in Kearney powering through a weak tackle from Michalak to touch down on 50 minutes.

Madigan's conversion drifted wide prior to another Ireland player, flanker O'Mahony, leaving the field on a stretcher.

As both sides rung the changes, France duly got back to within five points through a penalty from replacement scrum-half Morgan Parra.

Yet Ireland secured victory when Murray touched the ball against the padding of the posts after Rory Best had been held up agonisingly short, and another Madigan penalty extended the lead.