Eric Miller: It’s win or bust... but our quality will stand to us
THE coolest heads will prevail when Ireland take on Italy in Sunday’s crucial World Cup showdown at Dunedin.
Throughout the week, Nick Mallett has tried to draw the Irish squad into a battle of words. His squad have tried every trick in the book to rattle the mindsets of Kidney and his men in the hope of taking their minds off the place where all the real talking will happen.
For the likes of Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni, this will be the biggest chance they will ever have of reaching the quarter-final stages of a World Cup.
As two of Italy’s most consistent performers over the past decade, they will feel that they are owed this once in a lifetime opportunity.
What is positive from an Irish perspective is that they are also two of Italy’s most emotional players. Their mindset will surely be mirrored by the rest of their |team-mates which I believe can work in our favour as long as we don’t get too drawn into a dogfight.
Some of our guys have been here before. You can look back to the Argentinian game in 2003. So much was riding on putting everything right after Ireland’s disaster in the ’99 World Cup.
The pressure was unimaginable in the build-up. When I came off the bench after Alan Quinlan injured his shoulder, I must admit ‘my head was not where it usually was’. It reminded me of my first cap – you feel like you are floating around the pitch and not really making an impact.
So much was hinging on that result. The ’99 tournament was embarrassing to all involved and it was just a matter of getting over the finish line any way we could. I would guess that a good number of the guys felt the same way. Thankfully, we pulled a win out of the fire and the line in the sand was drawn.
One suspects that Italy will be of a similar mindset, so hopefully it will work against them.
Ireland need to do exactly what they did in the Australian game, which will be a monumental ask. It may be even tougher up front. However, the rewards for attacking the Italians where they are strong – namely in the maul, lineout and scrum – will reap more rewards.
Ireland will not need the heavens to open up to stop Italy from playing, as long as they are given no leeway in the engine room. Some had feared that the USA game would come back to haunt us. After failing to get the bonus point, it has now left us in this win or bust situation.
That’s hard to digest after beating the Tri Nations champions and winning three out of three thus far.
On the flipside, the incentives are huge for our guys too. The path is clear and not as rocky as it could have been should we come through as group winners.
All the experience and desire should stand to the Irish whatever transpires on the pitch. I expect that extra bit of quality that we have to stand to us when opportunities present themselves.
O’Gara’s selection is the right call. His kicking stats have been better than Sexton’s and he would relish the opportunity in such a pressure environment.
In the unlikely event of the game opening up, the right impact players can finish the job.
I am confident about this one. Destiny awaits!