I was very impressed with Ireland's performance against Italy during the last round of RBS 6 Nations matches. We played well against a team whose own performance was, in my opinion, even better than the one which earned them victory over Wales at the beginning of the tournament.
Everyone knows how much progress the Italians have been making over the last few seasons but we've been progressing as well and it was the sort of game we had to believe we could win. The Irish started nervously and, because of that, made a few mistakes which they would not normally make, but we had enough in the system to cover for those errors and I think it's an example of how much this team is improving. The difference was that we didn't let Italy take advantage of our mistakes.
I would, however, say that the discipline of the Italians - something which has previously let them down in the 6 Nations - was absolutely fantastic, and they suffered slightly from losing fly-half Diego Dominguez to injury, and then being forced to keep replacement Ramiro Pez on the pitch even though he was also struggling. But we definitely deserved the win.
France come to Lansdowne Road on Saturday and it's fair to say that they have not hit top form yet. I have absolutely no doubt that they will want to address that fact against the Irish, and we have to be ready for them. The French are an excellent side and some of their play can be startling at times. It's certainly no help to Ireland that people have already written Bernard Laporte's side off - you can't afford to do that to such a good team.
I'm expecting an extremely tight game, and I think the first 20 minutes are going to be crucial. If you let France get away from you early on then they're difficult to catch. Our players are confident but realistic - you've no divine right to win any game automatically, but I'm hoping that by Saturday night it will be three out of three for Ireland.