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Six Nations Italy v Ireland: Our attitude must be spot on in Rome, insists Keith Earls

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Play a sport, they said; it'll be good for you. Well, looking at the sombre faces around the Ireland camp this week there may be a few strapping lads who'll disagree as they seek to explain what went wrong against Scotland last weekend.

Sure, it does wonders for your physical health but it can be tough on the mind.

Keith Earls is the latest into the firing line, a man who has experienced highs and lows on the rugby pitch but who, when he last spoke to the media at Carton House, talked of how the death of Anthony Foley had taught him not to take this game that is his job so seriously.

More: Six Nations Italy v Ireland: Conor O’Shea leads way as duo aim to revitalise Italian game

Yet, here he is, facing up to a defeat that will rank among the most annoying he and his team-mates have ever suffered.

The Six Nations offers three prizes and two of them went out the window on Saturday.

Earlier this week the players were taken through their forgettable performance step by step by the ruthless Joe Schmidt, their mistakes exposed in High Definition.

They are beginning to come out the other side as Italy in Rome loom into view, but it has not been an easy week.

"It's not healthy," Earls said.

"Rugby isn't healthy for the mind. It's up and down. You could be on top of the world one week and then you're back down.

"You're representing your country which is always massive, you know the whole nation is watching you and the people that travel and then when you have a poor start, you come so close and then you lose, it's extremely disappointing.

"Especially looking back on it again, we had unbelievable opportunities and we beat ourselves. We let Scotland beat us.

"It's never good for the 24 hours but when you look back and see your mistakes, it was nothing unbelievable that Scotland done - in fairness they took their chances - but a lot of it was our mistakes.

"Fair play to them, they're a team on their way up, they've got good structure and Glasgow are flying in Europe, their confidence is high and they're producing some good performances.

"We'll look at our mistakes and try to fix them but I suppose you've got to be positive as well coming back from that margin and getting ahead. I suppose our discipline as well maybe towards the end but we were just trying to chase the game and they put us under a lot of pressure for the last eight or nine minutes."

Earls was one of those left fighting fires as Ireland's defence got too narrow in the first-half on Saturday and he was horribly exposed as Stuart Hogg was handed the ball in space in the build-up to his second-try.

Rob Kearney drifted, leaving the Munster man with the unenviable task of hauling down the Scotish full-back in full flight and the task proved too difficult.

"That's the problem with wingers, wingers tend to get the blame!" he wryly remarked.

"That and No 13 are probably the hardest place to defend. We knew early on with our line-speed, Faz (defence coach Andy Farrell) didn't go at us at half-time. He just said 'look, we're not doing what we said we were going to do'.

"We spoke about it all week and we didn't do it. We did it in the second half and it worked.

"We didn't solve any problems at the weekend when we were down a number or two.

"If we just stick to our plan I think we can keep most teams out."

Earls is not entertaining talk of bonus points ahead of Saturday's Stadio Olimpico visit.

"It's going to be unbelievably physical. It always is over there," he said.

"Conor O'Shea and Mike Catt are doing a good job with them.

"We're after losing one game already. We need a win in Italy to get our Championship back on track again and if we don't it's going to be a tough couple of weeks after that."

Another defeat might just be too much for them to entertain. The focus is getting back to the highs the game has to offer.

Belfast Telegraph

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