Rotorua - Ireland will face their 'Cup final' in a winner-take-all showdown with Italy next weekend for a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, coach Declan Kidney said on Sunday.
Kidney's Green Machine are three points clear of Australia with the Italians trailing the Wallabies by five points with two games to play. Australia are expected to get a bonus-point win over Russia in Nelson on Saturday and clinch a quarter-final spot.
Ireland consolidated their grip on Pool C with a 62-12 win over tournament newcomers Russia in Rotorua on Sunday to back up their massive 15-6 upset of the Wallabies at Eden Park last weekend.
Kidney, who masterminded the tactics that ambushed the fancied Wallabies, is preparing for a showdown with the Azzurri in Dunedin next Sunday.
"We always knew that the Italy game was going to be the vital game for us to try and get out of the group," Kidney said.
"The fact that we find ourselves in a winner-take-all situation with more than likely Italy next Sunday it's just like a Cup final."
"That we have something to play for is great because obviously there's a big prize to play for to get into the quarter-finals.
"You also know they you will be going home on the flight on the next day if we lose.
"We under no illusions of what the scale is."
The Irish have won their last 15 encounters with Italy and have never met at the World Cup previously.
The Italians play their third game of the tournament against the United States in Nelson on Tuesday aiming for a win to set up the showdown with the Irish.
Kidney rated the Rotorua performance "hot and cold" with only six players backing up from the Eden Park boilover.
"I think we had hot and cold patches. We started off reasonably okay," he said.
"We probably fell off in the middle of both halves and finished the first half strongly enough.
"In the second half, we fell off in the middle but then again there were a lot of changes going in. We didn't finish off too bad. There were plenty of good things.
"It's quite difficult for some of the lads getting their first run in four or five weeks. The enthusiasm was brilliant.
"Sometimes we didn't have the team cohesion we wanted but it wasn't through lack of effort.
"Once you get to the knockout stage of the tournament, you never know who you'll need to call on. That's where we can get the real benefit out of the game tonight."
Kidney said injuries were mainly bruising and superficial and of no immediate selection concern ahead of the Italy showdown.
"Rob (Kearney) picked up a bang on the knee. Sean (O'Brien) got a bang on the arm but mostly bruising and superficial stuff. Keith (Earls) got a bang on the leg as well but I imagine they'd be training by mid-week," he said.