Joe Schmidt has admitted Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are angry and grumpy with their personal Guinness Six Nations form.

Fly-half Sexton kicked a towel in disgust as he left the fray late on in Ireland's tetchy 26-16 win over Italy in Rome.

Schmidt revealed the 33-year-old was lamenting copping a string of off-the-ball hits, though the Ireland head coach refused to criticise any of the Italian tactics.

The Ireland coach conceded his British and Irish Lions half-backs Sexton and Murray are still battling to regain their mojo, as Ireland overturned a 16-12 half-time deficit for an unconvincing bonus-point win.

"I think Johnny was a bit angry when he came off because he'd just been hit three times off the ball," said Schmidt.

"I'm not saying any of it was illegal. They were well-timed challenges, some of them. He gets that every week, but he felt a degree of frustration about that.

"And Conor is frustrated, he felt that there should have been a decision made when the ball gets taken off him. I haven't really looked at that to know. He's grumpy and then there's a real danger that you start trying too hard.

"You then tend to create pressure on yourself and then you don't play well. You play best when your confidence is good, you have a sense of responsibility and you combine the two to be fluent in what you're delivering.

"When players don't get an early touch in the game that's positive, that accumulates, that frustration.

"I'm proud of the players that they stayed calm enough to make sure we got the win and the five points.

Johnny Sexton cut a frustrated figure as he left the pitch in the closing stages of Ireland's 26-16 win over Italy in Rome


"We're still trying to get a rhythm for Johnny. And I think Conor's still trying to find his feet. There's a bit of a risk for Conor that he tries too hard. He's frustrated that he's not the smooth-running machine that he normally is.

"But I thought he put in some really nice kicks today. On the back of that, I'm hoping that he gets a bit of his confidence back. I think he's going to keep building, and France will be another opportunity for him, all being equal."

Schmidt insisted Sexton's latest war wound, a minor thigh problem, would not hinder the Leinster playmaker for long, even though it stopped him goal-kicking at the Stadio Olimpico.

"Johnny just got a bump when the same guy got him twice in a row," said Schmidt.

"It just looked like he was looking for him, and fair play to him, he got him. So he was a bit sore.

"There's not really anything we can do to mitigate against any of that. Because Johnny's got to be the hub where he does play in the game.

"If he drops out of that hub position, I think he did a bit in the England game when it was his first game back in a long time, we suffer as a result.

"When he's in there he does allow us to get a little bit more organisation, and his decision-making is usually spot on."