Six Nations: Paul O'Connell wary of Italy threat
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell fears Italy will arrive in Dublin with the conviction they are ready to claim a prized scalp.
The RBS 6 Nations rivals clash at Aviva Stadium on Saturday with the Irish expected to register the first victory of a campaign disrupted by their postponed game against France.
New Italy coach Jacques Brunel watched his side slip to a 19-15 defeat by England in round two, but only after they surrendered a strong position.
O'Connell believes Brunel's influence is already apparent in the Azzurri's attempts to prove multi-dimensional.
"Italy's belief and confidence will have grown after their performance against England," the Ireland skipper said.
"That was probably their best chance of beating England since the Six Nations started.
"Even though they lost to France, they played a lot of good rugby and were good with the ball in hand at times.
"Their attack has been a lot better over the last two games. They're beginning to mix it up and that's what you must do to be successful.
"You need that big, strong pack that can get you over the gainline. But once you've done that you must be able to attack out wide.
"They seem to have improved a lot in that regard since the Six Nations started.
"But we're hungry and enthusiastic. If we meet the physical challenge, we have a great chance of winning."
Almost three weeks have passed since Ireland opened their Six Nations with a last-gasp defeat to Wales.
They have been inactive since after a frozen pitch at the Stade de France resulted in a wasted trip to Paris. O'Connell says his team-mates are raring to resume action.
"The guys are dying to play. We've been well looked after by the union coming into the competition," he said.
"We were given two weeks without any games over Christmas and straight after the World Cup. Guys are well rested and feel fresh.
"The break hasn't been ideal, especially after you lose a game in the fashion we did to Wales.
"We were bitterly disappointed by what happened and are eager to put that right.
"You just want to get out there and play, so to sit on our hands for a few weeks has been frustrating. The guys are really looking forward to playing."