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Smal warns squad of big test posed by heavy Azzurri pack

HAVING comprehensively dominated Tri-Nations champion Australia at the scrum at this World Cup, Ireland's forwards are expecting a harder night's work against Italy on Sunday.

The Irish know all their good work of three straight pool wins could be undone by defeat against Italy in Dunedin and are preparing for a physical encounter against a team desperate for victory to boost its own faint hopes of progress.

"They pride themselves on their scrums and lineout drives -- they're areas where they will attack and we have to stop them," forwards coach Gert Smal said today. "It's going to be a much bigger challenge than the Australia game. They're a heavier pack, Martin Castrogiovanni is a great scrummager, it's a very good front row and a heavy back five. It's going to be a big challenge."

Damien Varley just made it to Eden Park in Auckland in time to see his teammates beat Australia 15-6.

A late call-up to the squad following Jerry Flannery's tournament-ending calf injury, hooker Varley went straight to the stadium after getting off the plane to New Zealand for a perfect firsthand view.

"I got to the ground wrecked with jet lag but that soon disappeared when everything happened," Varley said.

"The one thing I'll take from it was how strong our forwards were.

"They bullied the Australians up front, which was great to see.

"We played a very physical game and you need to in this competition, certainly facing the Italians this weekend, who are renowned for their scrummaging.

"It's an area we are going to have to target.

"Having that bullish mentality is what psychologically diminishes teams and that's what we need."

Having played Italian sides in European club competition for Munster, Varley knows what Ireland will be up against. "Northern and southern hemisphere sides, they scrummage a little bit differently," he said. "It's certainly going to be hard.

"The Italian front row are such big men and very aggressive on the engage in the scrum. Teams like Australia and New Zealand, they're a bit lower and there's more of a lean to the scrum."

Ireland have won 15 straight meetings with Italy but came close to losing in Rome in February, when only Ronan O'Gara's 77th-minute drop goal rescued a 13-11 win.

"It's winner takes all on Sunday," Smal said. "It was always going to come to this game. We always knew it was the one we had to win."