Sean O’Brien admits Ireland must improve if they are to get the better of a ‘physical’ Italy side when they meet in Rome this weekend in the Guinness Six Nations.
The defending Grand Slam champions were beaten by England in their opening match of the 2019 campaign – their first Championship defeat in Dublin in six years.
Joe Schmidt’s side bounced back in Round Two with a 22-13 victory against Scotland at BT Murrayfield thanks to tries from Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale.
Flanker O’Brien has featured in both games for Ireland and while the Azzurri are winless in this year’s Championship so far, he is well aware of the threat posed by Conor O’Shea’s men.
“If you look at their last two games they have played pretty well in patches and I think their defence is brilliant, especially inside their own 22, they really come alive,” he said.
“They are incredibly physical so they have improved an awful lot and I think their set piece has been steady enough at times, so they have shown glimpses of what they’re able to do.
“For us, I suppose, knowing what we’ve done over the past couple of weeks we need to improve obviously and make sure we look after our own shop this week.”
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The 32-year-old was speaking after it was announced he will be joining London Irish from Leinster after the Rugby World Cup, linking up with his first Ireland boss Declan Kidney.
But while the IRFU do not select players who are based overseas, O’Brien is not prepared to give up on his international future after he makes his switch to the Exiles.
“If I’m fit and well I think I can add value to this group, even after I leave Leinster I’d hope to be selected,” said O’Brien.
“But that’s so long away and it’s probably a decision that the coaches and whoever is in charge at the time will have to make.
“But there’s always hope there, I think, that regardless of where you are you’re still in with a shout if you’re playing well enough.
“Until the World Cup finishes that is all up in the air. Afterwards I would hope to still be in the mix if possible and if fit, but I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.”