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Noel McNamara has warned his Ireland players to be prepared to face a fired-up Italian side when the two sides meet in World Rugby U-20 Championship on Wednesday (KO 2.30pm, eir sport 1).
Having lost to Australia on Saturday, Ireland must secure a comfortable bonus-point win over Italy to have the best possible chance of qualifying for the semi-finals as fourth seeds.
The three pool winners will be joined in the last four by the best-placed runners-up and Ireland will need to be at their best to ensure they join their Pool B rivals Australia in the semi-finals.
Italy will take confidence from their 24-23 defeat to England - they denied their opponents a winning bonus-point - and McNamara is not taking anything for granted against a side looking to secure their first win of the tournament.
“The Italians are and have been very competitive at this level, and that was in evidence again in their game on Saturday against England. When you look at the game, they’ll have frustrations that they didn’t get more out of it,” said McNamara.
“Obviously they got a losing bonus point, but the feeling there would be that they should have won the game. They certainly had opportunities and chances in that second half to put England away. I’ve no doubt that they’re going to come back on Wednesday morning and be absolutely up for the challenge.”
Ireland were reduced to 14 men during the first-half against Australia after Ryan Baird was sent off for a high tackle on Australia out-half Will Harrison. Despite being a man down they managed to move 17-10 ahead in the second half only for the Junior Wallabies to turn on the style with three unanswered tries.
Reflecting on the defeat, McNamara said: “I think we have to be proud of the efforts of the boys. To perform the way they performed against a really quality opposition like Australia and under the circumstances that unfolded.
“The quality of effort was absolutely first class and the character on display was absolutely first class. It’s fair to say there is some frustration from us that the game ran away from us at the end and we didn’t get anything out of it. But I don’t think you can fault the players for the quality of effort and the quality of endeavour.
“I think one thing you would also say is that it is never one aspect that decides the outcome of the game, it’s never one incident. So, obviously there’s things we’ll look at that maybe we could have managed a little bit better when we went down to 14 players…could we have navigated our way through the game a little bit better…”.
Ireland will be without Ronan Watters for the game against Italy after he suffered concussion in Saturday's loss, while the management team face an anxious wait for the outcome of Baird's disciplinary hearing.
The World Rugby Under 20s Championship continues on eir sport on Wednesday, 12 June. Subscribe here
Image: Inpho Photography/Pablo Gasparini