IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney has called on his team to use all their Heineken Cup experience as they |prepare to play knockout rugby a week early.
Defeat to Italy in Sunday's final Pool C match will result in the Irish enduring a heartbreaking early exit from the World Cup, with the |Azzurri progressing in their place.
It is a make-or-break position, which most of the squad are familiar with due to the success of Leinster, Munster and Ulster in reaching the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.
Kearney, who helped Leinster win their first European crown in 2009 before a knee injury curtailed his involvement in their repeat last season, believes that knowledge will prove critical.
“Our Heineken Cup experience will help massively because knockout rugby is different and it's something you might not always be used to,” said the Co Louth-born full-back.
“Whether you like it or not, it's a much higher pressure situation, knowing that if you lose you could be going home.
I'd like to think those big European games many of us have played will stand us in good stead. We often find ourselves in these scenarios that come in round six of Europe, when whether you progress is determined by how you perform on the day.
“In the last few minutes of games when things might not be going your way, it's about having the experience to be patient and take your opportunities when they come.”
Kearney believes Ireland have the temperament to deliver when the pressure is at its greatest – a claim supported by victories over England and Australia this year.
“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 when they come,” he said.
“I like to think Ireland do pretty well in these situations. We've shown throughout the last few years that when the chips are down and we need to win, we can win.
“We know how to win as players, in provinces and in our country. Winning is not an issue for us.”
“Given that Ireland have beaten Tri-Nations champions Australia in the result of the tournament, returning home at this stage is unthinkable.
But having amassed 15 successive victories against Italy, dating back to 1997, it is an unlikely scenario.
The Azzurri view this match as their ticket into the quarter-finals and have taken positives from their last-gasp 13-11 Six Nations defeat in the fixture in February.
But Ireland start as 1/10 favourites and for them to slip up now would stun the World Cup.
“We try not to pay a huge amount of attention to factors outside our control and what the public might think about our performances and our chances,” said Kearney.
“We have a huge amount of respect for Italy and in our last game against them they came very close to beating us.
“Everybody knows Italy have been targeting this game massively - all along it's been the one where they felt they could create a huge upset.
“So we know they'll probably be putting a little bit more into this game than some others.”
Kearney (bruised knee), Keith Earls (bruised leg) and Sean O'Brien (bruised arm) sat out training today as a precaution, but all three are expected to participate tomorrow, as are Tommy Bowe (calf) and Paul O'Connell (hamstring) took part in light training and should play a fuller role tomorrow.
Gordon D'Arcy took a full part in the session today without any reaction to his hamstring strain.
Meanwhile, Kearney has launched an attack on the actions of Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez after he refused to come off the bench in Manchester City’s game with Bayern Munich a “disgrace”.
“He's a disgrace to football. He epitomises everything that the man on the street thinks is wrong with modern footballers,” he tweeted this morning.
Kearney spent almost nine months out of action after injuring his knee in last year’s autumn international against New Zealand and hated being on the sidelines.