Ireland expect Sergio Parisse to return from injury and crank up the challenge and the pressure against Italy on Sunday.
Captain Parisse could be fit after a calf haematoma for the pivotal Pool D clash at the Olympic Stadium, and Ireland are well-versed in the Stade Francais star’s influence on the Azzurri.
Ireland eased past Romania 44-10 at Wembley on Sunday, with Keith Earls suffering a head injury scare and Rob Kearney a minor hip complaint.
Ireland expect Earls to be fit to face Italy after passing a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) on the side of the pitch.
“Parisse would definitely change the dynamic,” said lock Devin Toner.
“He controls the lineout, he owns it, he calls it: so he’s a real threat if he does play.
“But he’s the talisman, he spurs everything good about Italy.
“So if he does play it would be a coup for them.
“You never want to see players injured of course.
“I’m sure the neutrals want to see him play but I don’t know if we do to be honest!”
Beat Italy and Ireland will qualify for the quarter-finals. See off France in turn and Joe Schmidt’s men would top the pool and tee up a likely last-eight battle with Argentina.
“There’s probably a bit of a mind-shift now over the next two weeks, playing two Six Nations teams in those two weeks and two teams who know us very well,” said captain Paul O’Connell with Italy and France to come.
“We know them very well too and we’ve had very close games with France in the last two years and have been lucky enough to beat them.
“With Italy in Rome we were lucky enough to beat them too.
“It’s two massive games ahead now.
“Parisse makes a massive difference for them, he’s obviously a world-class player.
“A lot of their defensive and attacking lineouts run around him, we talked today about having 100 per cent set-piece – it’s going to be a lot harder to do that against Italy.
“Around the field he can produce that something different, that maybe the teams in the last two weeks haven’t had.
“So we’ve got to be ready for that.”
Head coach Schmidt is under no illusions to the magnitude of the week ahead.
“This is the pivotal week,” said Schmidt.
“It’s where we can qualify ourselves.
“It’s pressure for us and pressure for Italy. That’s why people come to a World Cup – they want to see how teams respond to the pressure cooker environment.”