Sunday 21 January 2018

Irish almost lulled to sleep by resurgent Italy

Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney

Sometimes Joe Schmidt can be a master of understatement.

"We may have been a little bit lucky to have escaped," he reacted after Italy's serious challenge of Ireland's credentials.

It took a real 'braveheart' try-saving tackle from Peter O'Mahony to prevent Josh Furno from catapulting Italy in front just as they were beginning to believe.

"When we were loose with the ball, it gave them energy and confidence and they almost made us pay," he said.

Schmidt felt the soft landing handed to Ireland through the draw from the first two games against Canada and Romania came home to roost as they appeared not to be ready for the storm that brewed before them.

"I think we can get lulled into a false sense of security having played a couple of Tier-2 teams, having had the opportunity to build decent scoreboard pressure early in the game.

"When it didn't happen today, as we suspected it might not, we almost put pressure on ourselves."

It all looked like it was going to plan when Ireland conceived and converted an excellent try by Keith Earls in the 20th minute.

"Even the try that came early was too easy and suddenly I think we may have switched off.

"And believed that things would happen rather than us having to make it happen and work hard enough to make it happen."

The decidedly modest defeat of Italy may have the desired effect of making Ireland the underdogs to overturn France.

New Zealand and Argentina from Pool C await for France and Ireland from Pool D in the quarter-finals, the pairings set to be resolved next Sunday.

"I don't think either of the opposition we'll have in the quarter-final will be easy at all.

"They will both probably be favoured to beat us. We'll just try to keep it one week at a time and do as many things well against France as we can.

"And see if that's enough."

Rob Kearney and Jared Payne should come back into a squad that escaped The Olympic Stadium unscathed.

All signposts point towards the Millennium Stadium.

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