Earls: Italian job will be tough
Munster star alive to Azzurri threat but insists Irish at their best when it's do-or-die time
KEITH EARLS insists Ireland have accepted their perilous route into the World Cup quarter-finals.
Despite their heroic Pool C victory over Tri-Nations champions Australia, the Irish could be dumped out of the tournament if they lose to Italy on Sunday.
The permutations of the group mean which team progresses further may be determined on the head-to-head result in Dunedin this weekend.
Having produced the result of the World Cup so far, for Ireland to return home in a week is unthinkable.
But Earls expects the squad's Heineken Cup experience to help clear a path into the quarter-finals.
"After winning three games you think you're in a good place, but being Irish when do we ever do things the easy way?" said the Munster winger
"It's a cup game but look at what Leinster, Ulster and Munster have achieved in the Heineken Cup in recent seasons.
"We are all very good when it comes to cup mode and if we play to our potential on Sunday it will be happy days for us.
"This World Cup is a very exciting opportunity for us and a lot of us dream of making the quarter or semi-finals, but we won't get too far ahead of ourselves."
Though the stakes at Otago Stadium are high, history points to an Ireland win.
They have amassed 15 successive victories in the fixture dating back to 1997 and should prove too strong for the Azzurri, who are having to play two games in six days.
But memories of Italy's narrow 13-11 defeat in the Six Nations in February remain vivid and it is clear Nick Mallett's side have targeted this match.
"Italy ran us close and beat France in the Six Nations so it's going to be tough," said Earls.
"It's always been tough against Italian sides. Their backs are quite physical, especially the centres, and they're good defenders. You feel it the following morning when you've played them.
"Maybe in the past we'd expect to win this game but you wouldn't say it now. Italy have pulled out some famous victories in the last few years. Hopefully it won't be our turn to be on the wrong end of a result."
Rob Kearney, who won a Heineken Cup in 2009 with Leinster, added: "Knockout rugby is different. Whether you like it or not, it's a higher pressure situation, knowing if you lose, you could be going home.
"It's just about dealing with those pressure situations, do your basics and take your opportunities. Like any other big game, where there's a huge amount on the line, you have to limit your errors massively and take those opportunities."