RUGBY NEWS - Garry Ringrose says Ireland owe it to fans who have seen them through "thick and thin" to beat Italy when the Six Nations returns on Saturday in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 25-year-old centre and his team-mates could win the tournament if they beat both Italy and France in Andy Farrell's first campaign as head coach.
A bonus-point victory over pointless Azzurri would see Ireland join les Bleus and England on 13 points going into the final round of matches the following week, though England are firm favourites, with just Italy to play.
The postponed match will be played behind closed doors but Ringrose said the absence of fans made a win even more important to lift the spirits of the country, battling a resurgence of infections.
"We definitely spoke about it and we have an appreciation that people are going through incredibly tough times," he said on Monday.
"We're lucky to be able to come in and do our jobs together. We're being given an opportunity to give a lift to some people who might be going through a tough time."
Ringrose, who captained Leinster to victory in the Pro 14 final against Ulster last month, said he knows how important sport is to the Irish.
"I know that when I'm watching sport, very little else matters," he said. "So I know some of our supporters around the country get behind us through thick and thin."
Ringrose, who scored a try when Ireland beat England to secure the 2018 Grand Slam at Twickenham, said there was an edge to training as each player seeks to make the matchday squad.
"We're in a very privileged position to be able to carry out our job because I know some people aren't as fortunate," he said.
"There's huge motivation and excitement within training because everyone wants to get out on the pitch on Saturday."
Ringrose said the environment for the players was starkly different during the pandemic.
"The protocols that are being encouraged by the government, we're adhering to here so we have masks on pretty much all the time, handwashing and social distancing," he said.
"They're considering close contact so when we are together as a group it's all very quick-moving and you're never beside one person for too long."
Ringrose said training had been tough but Ireland's style of play should, if not always easy on the eye, at least be effective against the Italians.
"It's about trying to play a brand that we all love," he said. "That might look different at different times because it's not necessarily about being the Harlem Globetrotters.
"It's not necessarily one style of play being encouraged or implemented, but it's the right thing at the right time to take advantage of whatever opportunities there are."