Joe Schmidt has admitted that his Ireland team are still recovering after being ‘broken’ by their opening Guinness Six Nations defeat to England in Dublin.
Eddie Jones’ side shocked the hosts at the Aviva Stadium with a bonus-point win that owed much to Henry Slade’s second half-double and their smothering defence.
Since that loss – Ireland’s first in the Championship since March 2017 – Schmidt’s side have slowly ground back into gear.
They held off Scotland at BT Murrayfield in Round Two before narrowly avoiding an upset in Rome last weekend.
And the Irish head coach, who has also seen his squad hit by injuries in both the second row and the centres, admits his side are playing catch-up after a spectacular 2018.
“Sometimes, when players haven’t played for a long time, they don’t quite get it perfect when they come back in,” Schmidt told reporters after the game.
“I think they can get a little frustrated and then try too hard, and when they try too hard, it doesn’t go well for them and then they start to lose a bit of confidence.
“Sometimes, it’s just about taking a step back. We always talk about going forward. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back and take a deep breath and not panic because I think the players were a bit…I suppose a bit broken by the fallout from the England game, and then suddenly they start to question themselves.
Last weekend saw Ireland trailing 16-12 to the Azzurri in the second half and facing an upset.
But they bounced back, Keith Earls and Conor Murray both dotting down to secure the win and a bonus point to boot that keeps them in Championship contention.
“As soon as you lose that confidence, there’s a couple of times where I felt we could have taken a risk (against Italy) but we didn’t take the risk because we’re feeling a little bit suffocated, and you can’t play within yourself, not if you want to beat a good team and the good teams are tough to beat,” he added.
“I would caution against underestimating Italy. They’re difficult to cope with.”