Andy Farrell is challenging his players to show their ‘true character’ after Ireland lost their opening two Guinness Six Nations matches for the first time in their history.
Farrell’s team went down 15-13 against France in Dublin as tries from Charles Ollivon and Damian Penaud extended the hosts’ tough start to the Championship.
Replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher did cross but Ireland, who lost 21-16 to Wales in Round 1, were unable to launch a late turnaround.
Farrell, 45, says his players are hurting both physically and mentally but is backing them to show their fighting spirit when they travel to Rome in a fortnight.
“It’s mixed emotions,” Farrell said.
“I’m unbelievably proud of their efforts – there are a lot of lads that are hurting in there, mentally and physically from the obvious work rate, work ethic and putting their bodies on the line for their country.
“But at the same time, Test matches are there to be won, especially at home, and we rue a few decision and chances that we made along that way.
“Even though a couple of days ago people were writing us off, we never wrote ourselves off. The game was there to be won, it was a hard-fought contest but it was one that slipped away from us at the end.
“Our approach and our attitude doesn’t change. I just said to the boys in the changing rooms that we talk about the strength of the group, the togetherness of the group and how close they are.
“We’ll see how close we are now because we’ll show our true character. We’re not even halfway through, so it’s about making sure that these next three games we’re at our best.
“That approach doesn’t change, no matter what.”
France were reduced to 14 men midway through the first half when lock Bernard Le Roux was sent to the sin bin for a trip on Keith Earls.
But Ireland were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage as flanker Ollivon notched France’s first try just before the half-hour.
A Billy Burns penalty marked the hosts’ only points of the first half and when winger Penaud crossed at the start of the second period, Ireland had a mountain to climb.
Kelleher replied to Penaud’s effort to cut the deficit but Ireland, who roared to a memorable Grand Slam title three years ago, were unable to make periods of late pressure pay at the Aviva Stadium.
And stand-in captain Iain Henderson accepts his team are facing an uphill battle but is urging them to regroup and attack their next three fixtures against Italy, Scotland and England.
The 27-year-old said: “We’ll have a good look at it in detail over the next few days.
“It will be hard to look at. We’re all very disappointed, particularly because the effort was so positive from everyone.
Henderson: ‘frustrating’ France defeat leaves us with ‘backs against the wall’
“Everyone’s down about the result but we just need to stay close together and look at where we can build on those positives.
“We have two weeks now to dust ourselves off and turn the page and make sure we attack the last block.
“For us, we need to go out and attack every game and just play rugby and have a go every time. It’s a massive challenge for us, so we’ll talk about it in detail next week.
“There will be a plan there in place and we’ll just have to dust ourselves off, attack what’s coming next and make sure we better our performance.”