Joe Schmidt: Ireland squad must “roll up sleeves”

Head coach Joe Schmidt Rugby Union RBS 6 Nations

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Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has warned his squad they must raise the level of their performances if they are to successfully defend the Six Nations title this year.

Schmidt’s side got off to a winning start over Italy on Saturday but in less than convincing fashion at the Stadio Olimpico.

Ireland sealed a 26-3 victory on their travels but were made to work much harder than expected to claim the victory in their opening Six Nations game.

Italy put in a passionate and confident performance but came unstuck when Leicester Tigers hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was sin-binned.

Ireland, ranked third in the world, took full advantage of the extra man but Schmidt was unhappy with what he saw over the course of the 80 minutes.

Rivals England and France also got their campaigns off to winning starts and Schmidt has warned his side that big improvements must be made otherwise they risk relinquishing their title.

Schmidt said: “We will have to roll our sleeves up and hopefully put together a sufficiently improved performance to be competitive against France.

“We would not have lived with England like that. And I thought Wales were pretty good.

“For us we certainly need to up our game. I do think that part of it was the pressure Italy put on us but, at the same time, I know we can do better than that and we are going to have to.”

Ireland return to action against France on February 14 for a Valentine’s Day clash and Schmidt hopes flanker Sean O’Brien will be fit after suffering a hamstring injury in Rome.

Schmidt is also hopeful over hooker Rory Best who had to be taken off in the second half of the victory over Italy as he took a nasty looking knock to the head.

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