Ireland began a new era with a new coaching team and captain, with a comfortable win against a determined Italy.
Ireland dominated possession in a game spent almost entirely at the Italian end of the field. A swirling, bitingly cold wind ensured that this was not going to be a classic battle, with kicking particularly difficult and some determined defence from Italy ensured that the Irish had only a single score to show for it at half-time.
That try was eventually scored and converted by player-of-the-match Niamh Briggs on 20 minutes, and followed a lengthy period in which Ireland were camped on the Italian line but had failed to take full advantage, with Italy soaking up the forward pressure.
It was also followed by a promising period for Italy which brought with it the prospect of the game being as tight as two years ago. However the Irish successfully snuffed out some threatening runs by Manuela Furlan to end the half with a clean sheet.
The Irish needed to turn their possession into points and kill the game early in the second half, and this they did within four minutes of the restart with Paula Fitzpatrick touching down following a drive from a well-worked line-out move. Briggs finally managed to get the best of the conditions with a penalty to extended the Irish lead to beyond two scores on 57 minutes, and a well taken opportunist try from Jenny Murphy - her pace chasing a kick ahead being too much for the Italian defence - ended the game as a contest three minutes later.
Two more tries followed before Italy finally escaped their own half of the field in the final five minutes to score a well taken consolation try by Maria Magatti, by which time the entire Irish bench had been used with Sene Naoupu, Sarah Mimnagh, Fiona O'Brien and Katie Norris getting their first experience of test rugby, alongside Hannah Tyrrell - who had started on the wing - and Katie Fitzhenry, who annouced her international debut with a slashing run that set up the final Irish try.
“We knew that if we kept it tight we had an experienced group of forwards and they would turn it for us but we are still in learning mode for the way we want to play,” said new coach Tom Tierney afterwards.
Scoring sequence - 20 mins: N Briggs try, 5-0; N Briggs conv, 7-0. Half-time. 44 mins: P Fitzpatrick try, 12-0; 56 mins: N Briggs pen, 15-0; 58 mins: J Murphy try, 20-0; 65 mins: H O’Brien try, 25-0; 74 mins: P Fitzpatrick try, 30-0; 80 mins: M Magatti try, 30-5.
taly: Manuela Furlan (Benetton Treviso); Maria Diletta Veronese (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Sofia Stefan (Rennes), Maria Grazia Cioffi (Rugby Benevento), Michela Sillari (HBS Colorno); Veronica Schiavon (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Sara Barattin (Rugby Casale); Elisa Cucchiella (Belve NeroVerdi), Lucia Cammarano (SR Monza 1949), Melissa Bettoni (Rennes), Flavia Severin (Benetton Treviso), Alice Trevisan (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Ilaria Arrighetti (ASR Monza 1949), Elisa Giordano (Valsugana Padova), Silvia Gaudino (ASR Monza) (capt).
Replacements: Awa Coulibaly (Rennes), Irene Campanini (HBS Colorno), Michela Este (Benetton Treviso), Alessia Pantarotto (Sitam Riviera del Brenta), Valentina Ruzza (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Beatrice Rigoni (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Paola Zangirolami (Valsugana Rugby Padova), Maria Magatti (ASR Monza 1949).
Ireland: Niamh Briggs (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt); Hannah Tyrrell (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jenny Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Jackie Shiels (Richmond/Exile), Alison Miller (Portlaoise/Connacht); Nora Stapleton (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Larissa Muldoon (Skewen); Ruth O'Reilly (Galwegians/Connacht), Gillian Bourke (Olympico de Pozuelo), Ailis Egan (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Marie Louise Reilly (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Sophie Spence (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Paula Fitzpatrick (St. Mary's/Leinster), Claire Molloy (Bristol/Connacht), Heather O'Brien (Highfield/Munster).
Replacements used: Fiona Hayes (UL Bohemians/Munster) for O'Reilly, Katie Fitzhenry (Blackrock/Leinster) for Shiels, Orla Fitzsimons (St. Mary's/Leinster) for Reilly (all 69 mins), Sarah Mimnagh (Wasps/Exile) for Bourke, Fiona O'Brien (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for Egan, Katie Norris (Blackrock/Leinster) for Fitzpatrick (all 75) Sene Naoupu (Galwegians/Connacht) for Miller, Tania Rosser (Blackrock/Leinster) for Muldoon (78).