Ireland stumbled to a 16-11 victory over Italy in their Six Nations opener.
Ireland's hopes of putting their World Cup nightmare finally behind them suffered a setback here on Saturday when they stumbled to a 16-11 victory over Italy in their Six Nations opener.
Both sides scored a try apiece - Girvan Dempsey for the Irish and Italian captain Sergio Parisse - but it was thanks to Ronan O'Gara's 11 points that the hosts eked out a barely deserved win with virtually the same team that destroyed the same opponents 51-24 in last season's Six Nations.
"Maybe it wasn't the performance I wanted, but sometimes you have to win ugly and today we dug out an ugly victory," said Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan.
Adding to Ireland's problems was the news that centre Gordon D'Arcy had suffered a fractured forearm and has been ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations.
"I didn't enjoy the first half. I thought we were comprehensively outplayed and were lucky only to have one try scored against us," said new Italy coach Nick Mallett.
"We needed to tighten up in the second half and we were better defensively. I didn't think we deserved to win but I'm proud of the way we defended and we put together some good passages of play."
The first-half, which was preceded by a minute's silence in honour of the father of Italian prop Carlos Nieto who died during the week, was a flat affair as the Irish tried to settle into some sort of rhythm while the Italians lacked the necessary spark to rattle the home defence.
However, O'Gara eventually put the hosts on the board as he slotted over a penalty in the 11th minute much to the relief of the Croke Park crowd.
The Irish could well have grabbed the opening try in the 15th minute had not the mercurial Geordan Murphy not spoilt his excellent catch out on the left wing by then passing the ball behind Dempsey, who had a clear run to the line.
Nevertheless Dempsey did cross the tryline three minutes later after a superbly worked try.O'Gara, a different player to the unsettled one at the World Cup, chipped over the Italian defence, Andrew Trimble caught it and unselfishly passed inside to the Leinster fullback, who touched down for his 19th try in his 79th test.
O'Gara converted to give him 400 points in the Six Nations tournament.
By the end of the half, and despite having been reduced to 14 men after lock Santiago Dellape was sin-binned, a penalty by David Bortolussi saw Italy go in only 10-3 down.
The second-half saw Ireland start on the front foot but they ruined several promising positions with simple errors. Veteran prop John Hayes hardly looking like an 80 cap international as he spilled the ball from a simple pass.
Matters got worse when in the 48th minute flanker Simon Easterby was yellow carded by referee Jonathan Kaplan giving the Italians renewed hope.Easterby was not to return as the highly-regarded Israeli-born No 8 Jamie Heaslip replaced him.
Bortolussi, whose late penalty miss against Scotland in the World Cup cost his side a place in the last eight, failed to make the Irish pay for another infringement when he sent his penalty wide from the halfway line with just under half an hour to go.
However, the Irish seemed to be sparked by this and produced some of their better rugby with O'Gara's chip over the defence being collected brilliantly by Brian O'Driscoll.
After man of the match Eoin Reddan's pass had been deliberately knocked forward by an Italian defender O'Gara added a penalty to make it 13-3.
The Italians, though, were not cowed and with an hour to go pulled to within five points as Parisse was credited with a try after much deliberation, the Italian scrum having forced their way over the line.
Bortolussi failed to convert and the difference between the two kickers was illustrated as O'Gara gave the hosts some breathing space with a penalty to make it 16-8 with 15 minutes remaining.
The lead was reduced to five points with 10 minutes left as Bortolussi converted an easy penalty.