Joe Schmidt admits he breathed a sigh of relief after Ireland fought back to see off Italy and insists they must up their game to have any hope of retaining their Guinness Six Nations title.
Keith Earls and Conor Murray crossed for second-half tries to turn a 16-12 half-time deficit into a 26-16 victory which puts them just three points behind leaders Wales and one behind England in the standings.
The two are set for a Round Five showdown in Cardiff in what could be a title decider, but Schmidt wants to see more from his side after they went close to their first defeat in Rome in six years.
“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked. We were down 16-12 at half-time and were up against an Italian side who have proven in this competition that they are tough to beat,” he said.
“Wales did not have something dissimilar while against Scotland they finished very strongly. I think they have had three ten-point differences in their games so far.
“We did create opportunities but we did not make the most of them. We were positive in attack but made errors right before half-time and that knocked our confidence.
“We are relieved. Even the last phase of the game summed it all up. Jacob Stockdale does an incredible job by running over his own line and then sprinting up to half-way with one man to beat.
“It does not go to hand and then they came back. It was similar to an earlier chance for Keith Earls and we could not convert that either.”
Ireland scored first-half tries through Quinn Roux and Jacob Stockdale to move 12-3 ahead but Edoardo Padovani and Luca Morisi crossed for the hosts to put them ahead.
Earls’ score ten minutes after the break tipped the scales in Ireland’s favour before Murray followed in off the back of a maul to bring up a bonus point.
Ireland will now begin preparations for Round Four and a home game with France and Schmidt expects a big improvement.
“We were not cohesive enough in the first half. In the second half we did enough to win and I am proud of the players, they stayed calm enough to ensure we got the win and the five points. That is what we needed,” he said.
“England have ten points but Wales are in the strongest position. They have a tough game at Scotland before meeting us in Cardiff. That will be huge for us and we need to make sure we are still in there.
“A few guys will come in and out for the France game and we need to put a better performance together.”