Ireland appear to be on the brink of qualifying for the last-eight following wins over the USA, Australia and Russia.
However the Azzurri have quarter-final ambitions of their own and fancy their chances of upsetting the odds in Dunedin on Sunday.
Memories of Italy's narrow 13-11 defeat in the RBS Six Nations in February remain vivid and it is clear Nick Mallett's side have targeted this match.
"Italy ran us close and beat France in the Six Nations so it's going to be tough," said Earls. "It's always been tough against Italian sides - I remember even at under-20 level they were really physical.
"Their backs are quite physical, especially the centres, and they're good defenders. You feel it the following morning when you've played them.
"Maybe in the past we'd expect to win this game but you wouldn't say it now.
"Italy have pulled out some famous victories in the last few years.
"Hopefully on Sunday it won't be our turn to be on the wrong end of a result."
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