Italy 3 Ireland 26
Ireland eventually ran out comfortable enough victors in Rome against a dogged, if not tremendously threatening Italian side, to get their Six Nations' campaign off to a solid start. They will have been thankful to kick off their defence of the crown they won twelve months ago against the Italian minnows, allowing themselves to iron out one or two issues before taking on their (expected) closer rivals later on. If anything the winning margin slightly flattered them by the conclusion of the match, as they piled on the points after Italian indiscipline had reduced the hosts to fourteen men, mid-way through the second period.
In an uninspiring first-half for the spectators, Ireland had edged their hosts but could only garner penalties to establish a 9-3 lead going into the interval.
Their three penalties were ably converted by Six Nations' debutant Ian Keatley, as Italy could only manage a Kelly Haimona penalty of their own in response.
They moved two scores clear with a further penalty with 23 minutes to go from Keatley, which seemed to settle any apprehension they may have been feeling about the result. The second-half had been a tight 'arm wrestle' up to that point, with the Irish mainly on the attack and retaining possession through multiple plays. They had dominated possession by 70%-30% but had knocked on twice when in promising positions near the Italian goal line, to squander potential try scoring opportunities. It was also noticeable how badly the pitch was cutting up under the pressure of the scums, which didn't provide a good base for attacking play and momentum in the game, as the Italians' rear-guard looked to be holding firm.
The game was effectively over as a contest with two quick Irish tries in a matter of three minutes, after Italy had been reduced to fourteen men in the 63rd minute, when hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was sent to the sin-bin.
In his absence, the gaps suddenly began to open up at the back at an alarming rate and Ireland took full advantage. On 65 minutes, the Irish stormed over for a try from scrum-half Conor Murray, after skipper Paul O'Connell had collected a line-out to set up the platform for the drive. The Irish led 19-3 and were threatening to run riot, especially when flanker Tommy O'Donnell broke through some weary Italian challenges in midfield to storm under the posts for a further try minutes later. With the conversion successful, Ireland had stretched their margin to 26-3, capitalizing to the tune of 14 unanswered points on their man advantage.
With parity restored far too late to make a real difference to the score, there was almost time for a consolation try for the home side at the end, but the officials went upstairs before deeming that Sergio Parisse had just knocked on, before Haimona touched down in the corner.
Ireland move on with an encouraging beginning to their Six Nations' campaign for coach Joe Schmidt, although they will be well aware of the need to reduce their error count when they challenge the stronger nations they will face imminently in the competition.