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We can win it, insists Kearney

ROB Kearney says Ireland's win over Italy has confirmed their status as a genuine force at the World Cup.

Two weeks ago, the Irish hinted at their potential by dispatching second favourites Australia 15-6, but yesterday's demolition of the Azzurri in a |do-or-die showdown at Otago Stadium was even more telling.

Knowing that defeat would see them return home today, Ireland produced a highly clinical display that swept them into the quarter-finals as Pool C winners.

Kearney believes their unbeaten march into the knockout stages has sent out a message to their rivals.

“We had that great win against Australia, but there were still a lot of doubters out there,” said the Lions full-back.

“This was a big day for Irish rugby, our personalities, us as a team and how we want to be perceived as a team.

“Obviously, there was a quarter-final place at stake and that's massive, but in terms of building a legacy and how this Ireland team wants to be known, beating Italy was quite important.

“We finished top of the pool and are slowly creating something really special. We feel as if there's more to come.

“I hope we're perceived to be a tough team to play against, that's building and improving with every game. That's four wins out of four, so we have sent out a bit of a message.

“Any team that won all four group games needs to be taken seriously.

“Topping the pool is fantastic and has got us into a quarter-final, but we want to go a lot further.”

Tremendous

Ireland ran in three super tries at Otago Stadium, with Keith Earls, who was celebrating his 24th birthday, crossing twice and Brian O'Driscoll running a tremendous support line for the opening touchdown.

“Tries win games and for weeks we've been talking about not taking our opportunities. We have to be |more accurate in those channels,” said Kearney. “When you get chances at a World Cup you must take them and we've starting to do that a |little more. It's good to see us scoring tries.”

Kearney insists the euphoria of demolishing Italy was quickly replaced by thoughts of Saturday's quarter-final against Wales.

“The excitement's gone already and that's how focused everyone is. There was more excitement and elation after the Australia game,” he said.

“The fact it's a six-day turnaround makes a massive difference in terms of recovery. Wales will be on us before we know it.”

Following the match, and with thousands of green-clad fans thronging the bars of Otago Stadium and captain Brian O'Driscoll still in his kit, Ireland coach Declan Kidney was jolted from his enjoyment of the 36-6 victory over Italy.

Glancing at his watch, he said, in some exasperation at the post-match news conference: “Phew, you don't give us much time do you?”

The comment was in response to the first of the no-doubt several dozen times he will be asked this week about Saturday's quarter-final against Wales in Wellington when Ireland have their best chance of getting to the semi-finals for the first time.

“It will be like a cup final,” he said. “That's what this competition is all about.

“It will be like a |Six Nations game

because the players know each other so well, space will be cut down. We know each other's style of play so it's a fantastic challenge.”

Ireland's previous four quarter-finals have ended with two defeats by Australia and two by France, but it was their pool victory over the Wallabies this time that has given them a dream path to the final, with a potential semi against France or England on the cards.

Knock

“They've got a team who can knock over anyone in that side of the draw in the quarters and the semis,” said Italy coach Nick Mallett. I don't think any team can be confident against them. Where is their weakness?”

They certainly showed all sides of their game yesterday as their pack stood toe to toe in a tense, bruising, often violent, first half before the backs took charge in the second.

Tommy Bowe's scything run to set up Brian O'Driscoll for the first try swung the game Ireland's way and the first of Keith Earls' two tries soon after broke Italy's resistance.

Ronan O'Gara also succeeded where many others had failed in mastering the art of goalkicking at the indoor |stadium as he landed four out of five penalties and both his conversion attempts.

Ireland look to be going into the Wales game in relatively good physical shape, though Rory Best (pictured left) could be a concern after the hooker suffered what seemed a serious-looking shoulder injury.

“Rory's doubtful for the weekend but we haven't written him off just yet,” said manager Paul McNaughton.

Meanwhile, McNaughton revealed prop Cian Healy was interviewed about the attempted eye gouge by Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, but the citing commissioner has yet to decide whether to cite the Italian.


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