Six Nations 2014: Ireland will respect Italy, says Joe Schmidt

Six Nations 2014: Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt explains his strong line-up for the clash against Italy

Joe Schmidt admits his Ireland selection for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Italy is born out of respect for the threat they pose.

The former Leinster head coach made a point of referring to Italy’s defeat in round two of the championship, in which they had led against France before succumbing as Philippe Saint-Andre’s side ran out 30-10 winners.

I’d have to say we’ve got a lot of respect for Italy and we know that we’ve got to get things right ourselves

Joe Schmidt

“If you put that game in context, took out 10 minutes, and if you played it over the other 70 minutes, Italy were in front and deservedly so,” Schmidt said.

Ireland lead the championship with a better points difference, ahead of England, Wales and France, with all four nations winning two of their opening three matches.

While they may be favourites to claim their first championship since 2009 if they win their final two matches, Schmidt is taking nothing for granted against Italy despite talk of a potential 20-point walkover.

“I’d have to say we’ve got a lot of respect for Italy and we know that we’ve got to get things right ourselves,” he added. “Yes, we’d love to go to Paris with a good differential but we need to get to Paris with three wins and that’s still our primary goal.

Indeed, Schmidt has made just one change to his starting XV from the 13-10 defeat by England at Twickenham last time out as Ulster’s Iain Henderson comes in for Peter O’Mahony on the blindside.

The Kiwi and Ireland’s senior players will be all too well aware of the threat that Jacques Brunel’s side could pose – Ireland ended their 2013 campaign with a 22-15 defeat in Rome, Italy’s first in 12 attempts since joining Europe’s elite.

Italy have also been impressive in spells in this year’s championship and aren’t short of tries, having found their way over the try-line in their matches against Wales, France and Scotland.

Two of those were close-run affairs – Wales needing the kicking of Leigh Halfpenny to spare their blushes, while Scotland needed a last-gasp drop goal from Duncan Weir to sneak a one-point win.

“The balance at the moment would be tipped massively toward the result,” Schmidt said.

“One of the good things is that we’ve got a very smart group of men who play the game and I think we can very quickly change the shape of what we’re doing and we’ve demonstrated that we can play a few different ways so far in the tournament.

“We can change that up a little if we need to in the last 20 or 30 minutes, or it may be at half-time we get together and maybe change a few things.”

In talking of his game plan, the Ireland head coach hinted at a frustration that Ireland have struggled to score tries late in matches of late, something which could have led to wins over New Zealand and England in the last four months.

“I think sometimes if you go out trying to win everything in the first part of the game, you actually frustrate yourself and you can be overly anxious,” he added. “You can try overly hard and in the end it’s very difficult to make things come off.

“So we’ve got to be patient, we’ve got to be really well prepared individually and as a collective because they are going to make it really tough and if we’re not up to it they’ve proven that they can easily get results.”

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