O’Connell’s return a boost for buoyant Ireland
Captain was ruled out of Scotland clash with chest infection, but is expected to face Wales
Joe Schmidt is confident captain Paul O'Connell will be fit to face Wales after the lock gave him some awkward moments ahead of his first Six Nations match as Ireland coach.
The New Zealander only discovered seven hours before Sunday's kick-off against Scotland that the British and Irish Lions second rower had been laid low by a chest infection he contracted the previous night.
Ireland made light of O'Connell's absence by launching their Six Nations campaign with a 28-6 win over Scotland at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.
"I'm pretty relieved, to be honest. The day didn't start too well," said Schmidt after a match where Ireland scored three tries through Andrew Trimble, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, who was earning his 50th cap.
"I got a phone call at eight o'clock in the morning to say that Paul O'Connell had a chest infection and had been awake most of the night, so he was ruled out and Dan Tuohy came into the starting line-up and Iain Henderson onto the bench."
Schmidt paid tribute to the late replacements by saying: "I think it's a real credit to those guys how they adapted quickly.
"It's a real relief to me that the game's over and done with and we managed to get the win on the board."
Schmidt said he expected O'Connell back for the second match, against Wales.
"I'd be really surprised if he's not. He should be back by Tuesday, for training, and hopefully he can train fully on Thursday."
Ireland are the only team to have beaten Wales in the past two Six Nations, and launched last year's tournament with a 30-22 win at the Millennium Stadium.
But there was a realisation they will need to improve greatly on their performance against Scotland if they are to beat the two-time defending champions in Dublin this coming Saturday after Wales started off with a nervous 23-15 win at home to Italy.
"It is nice to get off to a winning start," said Kearney. "However, we are under no illusions at the massive challenge that awaits us. They are going for three [Six Nations titles] in a row, which their coach Warren Gatland doesn't stop telling everyone," the fullback added.
Kearney agreed that the fact Gatland dropped icon Brian O'Driscoll - who won a record 129th Irish cap on Sunday - from the final British and Irish Lions Test against Australia last year would only add to the atmosphere. "Yes, I think it will spice it up," he said.