Ireland 'brought back down to earth' as Italy expose some frailties
Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30
The battle scars on the face of a jaded Sean O'Brien told a story of a tale that will be filed away under the heading of 'job done, move on.'
The performance wasn't pretty and it rarely is against the dogged Italians but Ireland head to Cardiff today safe in the knowledge that their place in the quarter-final is sealed.
Joe Schmidt's infamous Monday morning review will be an altogether different affair to any of the previous two at this tournament but once the dust settles, it will be straight back to work to go about mending the frailties that Italy exposed.
France will pose an even tougher test next Sunday and it's difficult to imagine them lacking killer instinct to the extent Italy did.
But for a superb last-ditch Peter O'Mahony tackle in the second half, the game would have taken on a completely different complexion - such will be the small margins in every game from here on in.
"It was a great tackle - a last-ditch effort. It certainly had a bearing on the game with the scoreline the way it was at the end," a relieved O'Brien said.
"Pete is one of those players who'll keep working for you and you need players pulling in these tackles in tight games like that."
Ireland were uncharacteristically indisciplined, something which is sure to have infuriated Schmidt while they lacked the composure that has become a hallmark under the New Zealander.
Ireland conceded 10 penalties to Italy's nine and as Rory Best explained, maintaining their discipline is imperative going forward in the tournament.
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"We know if we get that penalty count into single figures then we're a very hard team to beat and we just didn't do that. That'll be one area we look at. There's a few but that's definitely one," said the hooker.
"Every now and again I think it does no harm to be brought back down to earth and Italy definitely did that."
As the game wore on, Paul O'Connell's discussions with referee Jerome Garces became more and more heated, while Conor Murray was far from his best.
Amidst the tension, there were positives, particularly the performances of Iain Henderson, O'Mahony (despite his silly yellow card) and Robbie Henshaw on his World Cup debut.
No-one is under any illusions that any kind of performance like yesterday's will be good enough to beat France but O'Brien said that Ireland needed to get a hugely physical test like the one that Italy posed.
"Yeah, I think we did, you know," the flanker said. "I think it's really started now. It could be no harm for us in the long run. It was a very physical game, they came hard off the line at us and the French will do the same next week.
"Certain things didn't go our way but we didn't help ourselves at times, little offloads didn't come off for us and we were a bit sloppy in some of our play.
"We played in our own half a little bit too much at times as well. I don't think we were under much stress but it wasn't an ideal performance from us, but we can move on and kick into next week."
Schmidt revealed that Jared Payne had begun jogging yesterday, which came as a boost given he was wearing a protective moon boot on his leg prior to kick off.
In keeping with his recent excellent form, Keith Earls slotted in well in the Kiwi's absence and broke Brian O'Driscoll's World Cup try-scoring record but Schmidt will be keen to revert to his preferred midfield partnership of Henshaw and Payne.
Henshaw topped the tackle count with 12 but he admitted that he was frustrated at times with his side's use of possession.
"We can demand it but we have to hold on to the ball first before we can get it and I thought we were loose enough with the ball," the 22-year-old said.
"We haven't been as loose with the ball in the last couple of weeks. We just need to hold onto it and get more go-forward ball.
"That gives us more space and time. Ultimately, that's how we will start running in tries like we did the last couple of weeks. The ball wasn't that quick tonight. They were presenting a tough challenge at the breakdown and slowed the ruck for us."
The Italians are masters at slowing down ball, but it is concerning that Ireland were unable to find a way to counteract that.
The prize for the winners of next Sunday's clash with France is to avoid a quarter-final against the All Blacks.
The battle scars of that one are sure to tell another intense tale.