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'There will be a step-up this weekend but we can build around our forward pack and set-piece'
Forwards coach Simon Easterby has overseen an immaculate Irish set-piece during the World Cup so far.

THE IRISH PACK have delivered a 100 per cent return on their lineout and scrum so far in the World Cup. An impressive stat, only the Springboks can claim to have done the same so far.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby has overseen an immaculate set-piece during the tournament but the former Scarlets boss accepts that greater challenges lay ahead in the coming weeks, starting with the gnarly Azzurri pack at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

“Yeah, I think the scrum in particular has been a real weapon and will continue to be,” said the former Ireland blindside. “I suppose it’s not by chance and a lot of work goes into both areas. Myself and Feeky get plenty of time to be able to put both those things into place and make sure that’s our foundation.

“I suppose our forward pack gets our set-piece right then hopefully other things will build around that. It’s great that that is the case but I think we’ll come under a huge amount more pressure in the next couple of games, starting with Italy on the weekend, especially with the type of front row they have at their disposal, and guys off the bench and their forward pack and as we spoke about the lineout defence is an area that will be a real strength for them.

“So we don’t take anything for granted in terms of what we’ve done to date. It’s good, we can park that but we’ve probably got a couple of bigger tests to come in the set-piece.”

Following straight-forward games against a pair of Tier 2 nations in recent weeks, there is a palpable sense that the intensity will begin to ramp going forward.

IrelandÕs scrum Jack McGrath Ireland have got their set-piece right in the first two games of the tournament.

Tommy Bowe said earlier in the week that the squad were blown away by the intensity of the England v Wales match at Twickenham. The brutality of that contest serving as a warning to Easterby’s side of the sheer physicality that they are set to face in the coming weeks.

“Well I would say the tournament as a whole has shown that the sides which may have been perceived to be weaker have improved massively. They’ve had time together, better coaching and the performances have shown their discipline has been far better.

“Canada showed at the weekend, they were only a few minutes from beating the Italians.

“We’re more familiar with Italy and the French but in terms of a step up, it will be in certain areas, definitely, but the World Cup we’ve seen sides perceived to be a weaker team and come through and create upsets and create real positive performances. That means the gap’s getting closer between the best teams and those below.

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“There will be a step up on the weekend, there’s no doubt but in terms of what we’re doing, we have to focus on we’ve done well and what we can improve on over the next couple of weeks.”

Certainly, the Irish lineout will face its sternest test so far if Sergio Parisse manages to make it onto the field for Sunday’s clash.

Britain Rugby WCup Ireland Romania AP / Press Association Images Ireland return to action on Sunday at Italy at the Olympic Stadium. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The Stade Francais number eight has been recovering from a calf haematoma, suffered during his Italy’s 23-19 defeat by Wales earlier this month, and must pass two fitness tests this week in order to make the cut.

If the veteran forward makes it through, Easterby knows the Irish pack will have a real job on their hands.

“I think they’re probably a bit more consistent in what they do with him in there, even though he hasn’t played for a few weeks. When you look at Italy and when you look at what they have in their forward pack in particular, (Josh) Furno and (Sergio) Parisse are good operators, especially in competing against opposition line-outs.

“When Parisse is in there, you know you’ve got another issue to overcome before you’ve got to win your ball.”

“So I think if he comes in for (Samuela) Vunisa it does probably show us some of the things that we’ve seen in the past. In the last couple of weeks they’ve really only had Furno and Zanni a little bit, going up in defence, whereas the consistency of Furno and Parisse in there would probably a show a little bit more of what we’ve seen in the past.”

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