Ireland coach Andy Farrell hopes his side’s dominant performance against Italy on Saturday can spur them to a strong finish in the Six Nations after they won their first game of this year’s championship.
The Irish scored six tries in a 48-10 victory over the Azzurri to inflict a 30th consecutive tournament defeat on the hosts.
It came as a relief after Farrell’s side lost their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign for the first time, against Wales and France.
“Finally! I am really pleased, really proud of the lads,” Farrell said.
“They have stayed strong as a group and showed true character. Can’t ask more from them. We played some clinical rugby. We earned the right to score a few points in the second half.
“We know that the best is still in us. That’s a good step forward. We will try and finish this competition really strong.”
It was another day to forget for Franco Smith’s Italy side, who have conceded 139 points in their three defeats so far.
Sunday will mark the six-year anniversary of the Azzurri’s last win in the competition, away to Scotland in 2015, but Smith stressed the team needs all the support they can get to improve.
“For now they are better than us, even if we’re doing everything to become like Ireland,” he said.
“These defeats don’t just pass, they burn. It’s hard, but we need the support of everyone to take the next step. When doubt arises in a player, it becomes even more difficult.
“We have to crawl before we can walk, and to do that we need to have all of Italy behind us.”
Ireland travel to Scotland next on March 14, while Italy host Wales the previous day.