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Ireland eager to show efficiency and 'step up a few gears' against Italy

Jack Conan and his team-mates are intent on showing their clinical streak in Rome.

Quinn Roux, Cian Healy, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy and Jacob Stockdale warming up in Maynooth today.
Quinn Roux, Cian Healy, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy and Jacob Stockdale warming up in Maynooth today.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE WORD OF the week leading up to Ireland’s Six Nations win over Scotland a fortnight ago was ‘accuracy’.

It led to a successful return to winning ways in Murrayfield with more and more targets hit along the way. So as Joe Schmidt’s squad aim to power through and accelerate towards the end of the Championship, taking chances emerged as a theme in Carton House today.

That urge to show off a clinical streak was drummed home in yesterday’s video analysis session, according to Jack Conan. A clip of Keith Earls’ try against Italy last February was presented as an ideal example: a Dan Leavy turnover, Bundee Aki’s break, a clean pass at full tilt and the Munster man was away to seal the bonus point before half-time.

No player or coach in the Ireland squad can very well say it openly, but the hope is that facing Italy will present much more room to manouver, more chance to find a rhythm and more scoring opportunities than the suffocating loss to England or the tough trip to Edinburgh.

“It’s about maximising the opportunities where we’re capitalising on the times that we can score tries,” says Conan.

“(England and Scotland have) gone well against us and we probably haven’t gotten into our flow or our attacking shape as much as we’d have liked to.”

The Six Nations down week has helped that effort to an extent, and Conan called last week “a chance to look inward” rather than prepare to face off against a Test rival at the end of the week. The change of pace already feels beneficial for the group, Conan says.

“Lads are feeling refreshed and feeling good. I think it will stand to them and we’ll undoubtedly be hitting the ground running this week.”

Conan warned against viewing Italy solely through the lens of binary wins and losses. Their last Six Nations win was 19 games ago in a 2015 success away to Scotland, but facing up to the Azzurri in Rome requires a hard slog before running up a score can be considered.

By the time kick-off comes around at 3pm on Sunday, Ireland could be as many as 11 points behind England in the title chase, or perhaps nine behind Wales. Having missed out on a losing bonus against England and not clinched a fourth try in the final quarter against Scotland, five points is the minimum return if Ireland are to sustain any hope of retaining the title.

“Targeting bonus points is a very difficult thing to do, it’s very much about the outcome,” said skills coach Richie Murphy.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt drives a session in Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Every time we review and preview teams, it’s all about the process, trying to get that right in order to take care of the result. If we get that right, we will create opportunities and hopefully we will be able to score those four tries.

“It’s a case of us going back to the basics, back to doing what we’ve done really well in previous campaigns and build performances.”

“We definitely improved but we haven’t had a full performance yet, I suppose from our point of view, that’s what we’re striving for. We feel that we’re going in the right direction but we need to step up a few gears.

Over the course of the Six Nations it tends to because you’re together a little bit longer, your performances should get better. We definitely want to take a big step in the right direction.”

From a players’ perspective, there is rarely a chance to focus on wider tournament ramifications outside of pre-Championship goal-setting.  But purely from the point of view of hitting high standards, Conan is intent on helping Ireland shake off the early struggles in this Six Nations by looking sharp in Rome.

“We can’t look too far ahead of the weekend, but we have to make sure we do everything possible, create our own opportunities. Get our detail sorted this week and make sure we hit the ground running on Sunday.”

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Sean Farrell

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