Six Nations: Ireland searching for cohesion after tepid display in Rome

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Highlights: Ireland struggle to bonus-point victory over Italy

Ireland live to fight another day but the tepid nature of their 26-16 win over Italy has left head coach Joe Schmidt with more questions than answers.

'Cohesion' was the buzzword of the post-match debrief as Schmidt considered the uncharacteristic errors that littered the performance.

Seven months out from the Rugby World Cup, Ireland's Grand Slam winners are still struggling to regain the rhythm that carried them to second in the world rankings.

"There's a sense of relief because when we did create opportunities I don't think we made the most of them and when we're building some positive attacks we then made errors," admitted Schmidt.

"Right before half-time it looks like we might get that differential that we are looking for and that gives you a level of confidence and then the ball is snatched off Conor [Murray] and suddenly they go the length.

"We will look back at that ruck and at how well we chased back, and we almost stopped them, but fair play to Luca Morisi for finishing it.

"So at the end of all that you are relieved. Even the last phase of the game sums up the performance to a degree where Jacob Stockdale does an incredible job from the in-goal out to halfway with one man to beat, the pass doesn't go to hand, we knock it on and we're left scrambling around on the ground trying to grab the ball."

Having cruised to two tries in the opening quarter, Ireland were reeling at half-time when Italy came storming back to lead by four points.

The Roman crowd sensed a major upset and hoped that their first Six Nations win over Ireland since 2013 might be on the cards.

Peter O'Mahony was on the pitch during that defeat six years ago at the Stadio Olimpico that heralded the end of Declan Kidney's time in charge and the Ireland captain must have feared a similar outcome was possible as he attempted to rally his players during the interval.

"I was proud of the way the lads handled the second half because we were under the pump, we were under pressure," O'Mahony said.

"Coming in at half-time, guys were composed and we got clear messages and we implemented to a certain degree in the second half but there is plenty for us to work on and I am not going to sit here and say we are delighted with the performance.

"We know it is there and we know we are not far off but we just got to figure out what we need to do to unlock it a little bit."

Earls
Keith Earls scored the first of two second half tries in Rome

It was, Schmidt acknowledged, a big half-time team talk. He said: "I challenged the team at half-time.

"I think I might have said 'this is perfect' because now we can find out: can we work our way back into the game? Can we get back in control and can we make sure that we get the full account from this game?

"That is why I said I was proud of the way the players managed to stay calm enough and deliver what we needed.

"When you are in that situation, the anxiety levels have spiked, you're away from home and there's a huge expectation that we come here, where the points differential has been big in recent years and now suddenly it's not.

So where do we find that collective reserve of confidence to make sure there's enough cohesion that we can create two try-scoring opportunities and also keep them scoreless in the second half?"

Having felt the wall pressing up against his team's backs in Rome, Schmidt is hopeful that the visit of France in two weeks will see his side moving in the right direction.