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Thursday 14 December 2017

Best: We're backs against a wall

Easterby lauds progress of first choice McGrath

Ireland captain Rory Best leads his team-mates on a lap of the pitch before the start of squad training at Carton House (SPORTSFILE)
Ireland captain Rory Best leads his team-mates on a lap of the pitch before the start of squad training at Carton House (SPORTSFILE)

Ireland have been backed up against a wall.

Captain Rory Best knows it is time they put words into actions.

It is time to turn the post-match conversations into those about tries scored, not chances made and missed.

"We feel we're there now," he said.

"We haven't reached the levels we expect of ourselves or the coaches expect of us this Six Nations.

"We've got ourselves in a position now where we are against the wall.

"We need to come out and we need to make sure the smallest detail is done and done well."

The Irish have had to accept they weren't good enough to overcome Wales, France or England.

The same outcome at home to Italy would be filed away under the heading 'unacceptable.'

"We've seen over the last three games when pressure comes on that's when you see what sort of players you have around you.

"That's when you see what sort of men are out on the pitch and you hope that the boys will stand up

"I am very sure that our boys will stand up."

There have been comparisons drawn between this campaign and that of the disaster that was 2013.

Ireland drew one and lost two of their first three back then before Italy completed their first win against the men in green in the Six Nations since entering the race in 2000.

"I think we are in a lot better place," said Best.

"That 2013 campaign was just one that we struggled in.

"There were never many aspects from the previous games - bar the Wales game at the start - where you'd go, 'we can pick that apart, the positives are there.'

"We really, really struggled and I think you can look back at the past, but as far as I'm concerned, the past is the past.

"We know how dangerous they are, and probably back then we did underestimate Italy because they were only really starting to grow as a team.

"Whereas now I think anyone that underestimates them is very, very foolish," he warned

Ireland will have to do it without Cian Healy, who pulled out with a minor hamstring strain that may be overcome before Scotland next week.

Connacht's dual-purpose prop Finlay Bealham will step up to the bench where his international debut is by no means guaranteed.

This is due to the fact Jack McGrath has become Ireland's undisputed number one loose-head, playing back-to-back 8 minutes against Wales and France.

The greatest contrast comes from McGrath's durability compared to Healy's body breakdown.

"Since I've come in, Jack's played the most at loose-head and he has grown massively in terms of the group and how he's perceived within the group," said Ireland's forwards coach Simon Easterby.

"But I think also there's a fairly good understanding or appreciation outside of Ireland how good Jack McGrath is and how good a loose-head prop he is.

"He's great in the environment, he works very hard and he's also a very good scrummager."

It has taken the injury toll on Healy to allow McGrath to build up a strong body of work.

"What has allowed him to play a lot of games has been injuries and spells on the sidelines for players like Cian," continued Easterby.

"But, Jack's stood up and he's really taken on that mantle of being that first-choice loose-head.

"He's shown in his performances, not just this season but in previous seasons, that he is now one of those players you look at and think he could get into a lot of sides because he is that good."

The Irish are up against the wall. They have to fire back.

Ireland: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross, D Toner, D Ryan, CJ Stander, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.

Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, M Bellini; E Padovani, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, D Giazzon, L Cittadini, G Biagi, M Fuser, F Minto, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).

Ireland v Italy (today ko 1.30 live RTE2/BBC1)

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