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Ireland players draw on knockout experience at RWC

Updated: September 27, 2011, 00:23

DUNEDIN, New Zealand(AP) Knockout competition has come a week early for Ireland at the Rugby World Cup and its players have a wealth of experience to draw upon.

With Irish sides having won European club rugby's Heineken Cup in four of the past six years, Ireland's squad is packed with players wholly familiar with the pressures of must-win, one-off matches.

And that's what's in store on Sunday against Italy.

All the good work of three straight pool wins could be undone by defeat in Dunedin against a team desperate for victory to boost its own faint hopes of progress.

"Knockout rugby is different and it's something you might not always be used to,'' fullback Rob Kearney said. "Whether you like it or not, it's a much higher pressure situation, knowing if you do lose, you could be going home.

"It's just about dealing with those pressure situations, do your basics and take your opportunities when they come. Like any other big game, where there's a huge amount on the line, you have to limit your errors massively and take those opportunities.''

Kearney was part of the Leinster squad that won the 2009 final, the first of two titles in three seasons for the Dublin-based side. He missed this year's 33-22 win over Northampton in Cardiff because of a knee injury sustained against the All Blacks in November.

He only made it back into action for the Aug. 6 World Cup warmup against Scotland.

Having spent that time on the sidelines, Kearney is trying hard to take one game at a time: A difficult feat after the 15-6 Pool C win over Australia opened up a route to the final that avoids all the southern hemisphere giants.

"Always in the back of your mind you're maybe looking a couple of games down the line. Of course,'' Kearney said. "It would be fantastic to get into the quarterfinals, semifinals and your mind can sometimes wander a little bit.''

But with a powerful Italian pack fighting for progress itself, Ireland cannot look too far ahead.

"'Experience' is the word,'' Kearney said. "It comes down to having played in those big games before and having to fight your way back in, in the last few minutes of games when things might not be going your way and be patient.''

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