Ireland got their Six Nations Championship defence up and running on Saturday with a slightly stagnant 29-11 victory over Italy.
Ireland got their Six Nations defence up and running with a slightly stagnant 29-11 victory over Italy on Saturday.
While there was little to trouble the Grand Slam winners of 2009, even they will know that sterner tests are to come, starting in Paris next weekend.
But they got the job done and dusted with a little to spare in the end thanks to tries from Jamie Heaslip, Tomas O'Leary and the boot of Ronan O'Gara, making sure that the other nations would be playing catch-up in Round One's other fixtures taking place in London and Edinburgh.
What is clear for the Azzurri, however, is that they will need to show a lot more creativity wider out if they are to avoid another wooden spoon, which looks extremely likely without the presence of their injured number eight Sergio Parisse. Like it or not, he is a vital cog to their cause.
The game itself kicked off under glorious conditions without a breath of wind and on an ideal surface that Brian O'Driscoll and Ireland will not be playing under next year as the old Lansdowne Road nears its second coming. Speaking of BOD, the Leinster centre was one of the standouts on the day alongside David Wallace and Cian Healy, who enjoyed his personal battle with Martin Castrogiovanni.
Of course the battle up front was always going to be where this one centred around yet that does not excuse the lack of ideas in the Italian back-line. Do they have a coach wider out? Do they have backs at all?
Ireland certainly did in the first half and following an early chip apiece from Craig Gower and Ronan O'Gara, it was the hosts who got on the front foot thanks to Healy winning a scrum scrap with the Tigers tighthead. O'Gara knocked over the three points from 40 metres.
Coached/Consultant Alan Gaffney had obviously given his backs strict instructions to run plenty of decoys in the game but while it looked pretty, Italy were not buying the green flashes and defended well before a pass from O'Gara allowed Andrew Trimble to cut loose down the left. That break sparked a lovely passage that saw support runners joining the attack and ultimately led to Jamie Heaslip strolling over and with the conversion, Ireland were 10-0 to the good and looking impressive.
But it was far from the floodgate opener as Italy found their feet at scrum-time to get on the board. O'Gara swiftly cancelled that out though and when Gonzalo Garcia was yellow-carded by Romain Poite, Ireland had opened a 16-3 lead on 34 minutes.
Then came a see-saw end to the first period. Ireland probably believed they had themselves a match-winning cushion when Tomas O'Leary burrowed over for what became seven points. But they would be ruing a sloppy error in the dressing rooms after Rob Kearney took too long to clear his lines. The Lions full-back found himself charged down by wing Kaine Robertson and the lead was cut to fifteen at the break.
Craig Gower was absent for the remainder of the game which meant wing Mirco Bergamasco had taken over the kicking duties and though he missed the extras from the end-of-half score, he landed a penalty five minutes after the interval.
But Italy's problems continued at the scrum with Castrogiovanni once again conceding to Healy, allowing O'Gara to continue his flawless run with the boot.
Italy were at their attritional best in the third quarter but Ireland also contributed to the lull in proceedings with some poor kicking, O'Gara the main culprit.
And with one eye on the big game in France next week, Declan Kidney brought off a returning Jerry Flannery, Trimble, Paul O'Connell and O'Gara.
Paddy Wallace took over the kicking duties and was on-target with a penalty before Gordon D'Arcy made a break in what was a rather lifeless final 40 minutes in the capital.
Man-of-the-match: His ability to get over the gain-line always surprises defences and fans alike and David Wallace was once again an outlet for Ireland. Another solid performance from the Munster flank before he was taken off as a precaution late on.
Moment-of-the-match: Italian fans will not be happy that Ronan O'Gara's 'very flat' ball out to Andrew Trimble, which led to Jamie Heaslip going over was a huge decision at Croker.
Villain-of-the-match: Nothing really jumps out from the 80 minutes but maybe referee Romain Poite's decision to send Gonzalo Garcia to the sin-bin for his tackle on Brian O'Driscoll could be construed as being slightly harsh by the Frenchman.
Tries: Heaslip, O'Leary
Con: O'Gara 2
Pen: O'Gara 4, Wallace
Pen: Gower, Mi Bergamasco
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Tom Court, 18 Donncha Ryan, 19 Sean O'Brien, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Keith Earls.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Kaine Robertson, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Alessandro Zanni, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Josh Sole, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Marco Bortolami, 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Simon Picone, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Andrea Masi.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), JÃ©rÃ´me Graces (France)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Clayton Thomas (Wales)
By Adam Kyriacou