Although kicking off the defence of their crown away to Italy is ‘a pretty tough game’, Ireland lock Devin Toner is confident the team will deliver a result and performance.
Toner was a 64th minute replacement in Ireland’s last visit to Rome in March 2013 when they left with a humbling 22-15 defeat.
But a lot has changed since then, with competition for places in the Irish squad beyond anything that was there previously and the players have responded.
Toner feels players’ ‘heads are screwed on a lot more’ under Joe Schmidt and they are ‘not taking anything for granted’. That means the Azzurri will not be underestimated in this weekend’s much-anticipated curtain raiser.
“Italy are at their best at the start of the tournament and they are at their best at home as well,” he told the Irish Rugby Union’s official website.
“We are under no illusions. It is going to be a lot tougher game than people think it will be.
“They’ve got a vast amount of experience and they are very passionate at home. We are going to have a pretty tough game ahead of us.
“The coaches are always putting work in behind the scenes. We don’t see a percentage of the work that goes in.
“We had a little camp over Christmas and we were looking at some of the stuff we were going to impose on them, but it was only last week and this week that we really had some vision on them and looking at how to counteract their attack.”
Saturday’s match may only mark Toner’s sixth Championship start, but the Leinster stalwart is now a vital cog in the Irish pack, particularly at line-out time and in the maul, and he is looking forward to the battle up front with the Sergio Parisse-led Italians.
Asked about teams’ defence of the Irish maul, he admitted: “You have to adapt during the game.
“You see some teams do it (standing off at a maul) and some teams don’t. A lot of teams are adapting to the wave.
“It is something you have to work on in training. You always have to be ready for it. Each team has their strategies to counter act that.
“They (Italy) do have a pretty experienced pack and they do like to get up in the air, but we are pretty confident in our line-out.
“It’s gone pretty well over the last year and we’re going to hold that as a bit of an advantage.”
Ireland’s consistency over the past year has been a source of pride for Toner and his team-mates.
“Schmidt’s men are chasing their eighth Test win on the trot, something an Irish team has not done since 2008/2009.
Toner is eager to hit the ground running on Saturday afternoon, especially with France coming to Dublin next week for Ireland’s opening home game of 2015.
“We have a lot of confidence in the players around us,” he added.
“From the previous results we have gotten over the last Six Nations and November we have confidence in ourselves that we can pull it out of the bag and we can rely on all the players around us.
“There is a confidence in the team and it is all positive going forward.
“We have to go in as good as we can be. We don’t want to be feeling our way into things around game three, game four.
“We want to hit the ground running.
“We want to kick on from November – that is 100% what we want to do. We don’t want to be struggling in game one going into games two and three.
“We look at this game and nail it down first.”