by Brendan Cole

Ireland Women are in bonus territory having already achieved pre-tournament goals by winning the Triple Crown and the Championship and securing RWC 2015 qualification.

Watch live coverage of Italy Women v Ireland Women on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (IoI) from 1.45pm.

But what a bonus victory over Italy and the Grand Slam that would accompany it would be for this squad.

As against France last week, the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.

Though they were well beaten by England at Twickenham, Italy have already won against France and Scotland and only lost to Wales by a point.

They are a bigger force in the game than their male counterparts.

It should also be remembered that Ireland have had close calls in their run of four wins to date, needing a brilliant second-half performance to come from behind and claim victory against a determined and physically stronger French side.

They were also within minutes of falling at the very first hurdle against Wales, needing a late Gillian Bourke try to snatch victory on that occasion.

Ireland have changed tack since that opening match, moving Lynne Cantwell from 10 to 13 and bringing Nora Stapleton in to out-half.

That switch has been an unalloyed success, with Cantwell functioning as chief playmaker in the wide channel. Wing Alison Miller and full-back Niamh Briggs have been the chief beneficiaries, scoring the vast majority of Ireland’s tries.

Cantwell’s ability to fix a defence and time a pass is a crucial weapon.

But, while the wide players have created and scored the tries, Ireland’s play inside of Cantwell has also been impressive. The pack has strong ball-carriers in the likes of Fiona Coghlan and Joy Neville, while Stapleton and Jennifer Murphy bring a physical presence at 10 and 12.

That said, Ireland are not as big or powerful as some of the squads the play against. High tempo and speed are key.

The final ingredient against France was Ireland’s linespeed, organisation and desire in defence. With nerves and pressure potentially making attacking fluency more difficult to achieve that could prove vitally important again.

It would be a massive disappointment to miss out at this late stage, but Ireland look to have the character to get over the line.