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Saturday 21 October 2017

Defeat down to us says Earls

Irish to give 'backlash' they felt from All Blacks

Keith Earls in relaxed mood after an Ireland press conference at Carton House in Maynooth.
Pic: Sportsfile
Keith Earls in relaxed mood after an Ireland press conference at Carton House in Maynooth. Pic: Sportsfile

This week has been a test of mental stability for Ireland.

The removal of the Grand Slam and even the Triple Crown leaves one solitary trophy left on the table-for-six.

"Rugby isn't healthy for the mind," acknowledged wing Keith Earls.

"It's up and down. You could be on top of the world one week and then you're back down the next.

"You're representing your country which is always massive. You know the whole nations is watching you."

What everyone saw in Murrayfield was an Ireland not recognisable from that which had raised the hopes of a nation in November.

"We beat ourselves," issued the Munster wing.

There is a sense of 'backlash' in the air out in Carton House.

FAILURE

While Italy are never easy meat on their home patch, Ireland have been hurt by what they perceived as their failure more than Scotland's success.

They aim to make the Italians pay a heavy price for ending the first round with nothing more rewarding than a losing bonus-point.

Keith Earls of Ireland skips past Finn Russell, left, and Greig Laidlaw of Scotland to score Ireland's first try during the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield
Keith Earls of Ireland skips past Finn Russell, left, and Greig Laidlaw of Scotland to score Ireland's first try during the RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Scotland and Ireland at BT Murrayfield

It will take a heavy-handed dedication to the set-piece scrum and lineout. The former was impressive in round one; the latter not so much.

"It's going to be unbelievably physical. It always is over there."

Then, there is the Conor O'Shea factor just to spice it up.

"Listening to them last week, they're just looking for an 80-minute performance and, if they can do that, they're going to run any team until the end.

"They are another team on the up," warned Earls.

However, Italy are notoriously unpredictable in their level of performance.

"They can produce a big performance like South Africa, but then lost to Tonga the week after."

Italy showed all of that inconsistency against Wales in being right in the game when leading as late as the 53rd minute.

From there, they reverted to old habits in fading away in the face of tries to Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and George North.

"You can't give them belief," said Earls.

"They're a passionate team. If you give them belief, they will come after you."

Former Ireland full-back O'Shea has taken over an Italian system in annual crisis.

Their two clubs Benetton Treviso and Zebre are rock bottom when it comes to the PRO12 League. They are a collection of men very familiar with losing for their clubs and their country

O'Shea knows transformation will have to come slowly - if at all - beginning at grass roots level. For the moment, O'Shea will play the cards dealt from a weak hand.

"I suppose he gets a chance to coach at international level," reasoned the Limerick man. "It is a massive challenge for him. I do think they have a good squad, a good base of players.

"His depth probably isn't the same as other countries, so he has to get the maximum out of less players."

Whatever the Italians do, the Irish have to be angry over what they failed to do in Edinburgh.

There is bound to be a reaction form the start in Rome.

Coach Joe Schmidt will hammer home the significance of what was a bad start and end to the opening round.

The players must feel they have let down their defence coach Andy Farrell.

The spotlight has moved, rightly or wrongly, onto the Englishman for averaging out a loss of almost three tries-per-game. They owe him.

Strangely, the Italians are as likely to test Ireland as much along the three-quarter line as up front.

Michele Campagnaro, Tomasso Benvenuti and Carlo Canna can create and finish in the best company.

Even wing man Earls knows the battle up front determines a lot f what goes on in behind.

"It is up to our forwards as well to not give them that platform," he stated.

"It is up to us out wide to look after our breakdown, so they can't get the time and space to unleash that backline."

Ireland just have to wear them down until they are worn out.

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