In many respects, Ireland's opening performance of the 2011 Six Nations was, well, muck. However, before there is any wild descent into doom-mongering and calls for wholesale change, it should be noted that it is also a win that could stand this Irish squad in good stead, possibly even one we may look back on in eight months' time as a turning point.
The key is that they won – defeat would have been disastrous in terms of morale and progression to the World Cup. The clock is ticking, just eight games and seven months until Ireland begin their New Zealand 2011 campaign and it really is time to kick on.
There have been mitigating circumstances, such as injuries, rule changes and southern hemisphere opposition but the truth is we have not had an Ireland performance to truly enthuse over since the 27-12 win over Wales on 13 March last year. That is why victory was so essential on Saturday and, once again, Irish rugby owes a debt of gratitude to Ronan O'Gara.
Down to 14 men following the sin-binning of Denis Leamy, Ireland were a point behind their hosts and staring a first Six Nations defeat to Italy square in the face. The Stadio Flaminio was rocking, Italy coach Nick Mallett and his assistant Alessandro Troncon looked like they would have to book a hotel room if they got any more excited but O'Gara, on the pitch for Jonathan Sexton not long before Italy forged ahead through Luke McLean's try, was not about to miss this opportunity to make his point.
From the kick-off to the decisive drop goal a couple of minutes after, the 104-cap veteran was in masterful control and, if Ireland had replicated the clinical urgency and focus they showed in that end-game cameo for the previous 77 minutes, they would have won this pulling up.
They kept that focus when Italy attempted to respond with the last kick of the game, a drop goal effort from replacement Luciano Orquera, and relieved Ireland coach Declan Kidney paid tribute to his men afterwards. "There are things you can't coach, you either have it or you don't – and we have it," said Kidney. "That was a time we could have just panicked but, both in attack and defence, we didn't."
However, Kidney acknowledged that his side had fallen well below par with their error count which contributed to 16 turnovers – unsustainable against the top teams and very nearly calamitous against a fired-up and physical Italian effort.
"We didn't excel at anything really," admitted the coach. "I'm not going to try and bask in the elation of having gotten away with it. Knowing the players, I know how hard they try. We had a few wild passes and then once we did that, we just tried harder and harder again and that's a frustration, but it's a positive frustration, we just have to calm down and hang on to the ball and not force things as much."
Two of Ireland's most skilful operators – centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy – were particularly profligate with possession. O'Driscoll scored the crucial try after half-time when he squirmed around the flailing, mismatched challenge of Martin Castrogiovanni but he also flung two wild passes over the head of right wing Fergus McFadden.
D'Arcy had more spills than a waiter with the DTs, and one when he had brought his team to within a metre of the Italian line.
That said, Italy also deserve credit for their resolve. They are still a limited attacking side but have a pack that can mix it with anyone in world rugby and now, helped by their Magners League involvement, appear to be an 80-minute team.
Italy: Try McLean; Penalties Bergamasco 2.
Ireland: Try O'Driscoll; Conversion Sexton; Penalty Sexton; Drop goal O'Gara.
Italy L McLean; A Masi, G Conale, A Sgarbi (G Garcia 70), M Bergamasco; K Burton (L Orquera 72), E Gori (P Canavosio 10); S Perugini (A Lo Cicero 35-40, 63), L Ghiraldini (F Ongaro 63), M Castogiovanni; S Dellape (C Del Fava 54), Q Geldenhuys; J Sole (V Bernabo 50), A Zanni, S Parisse (capt).
Ireland L Fitzgerald; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (P Wallace 75); K Earls; J Sexton (R O'Gara 66), T O'Leary (E Reddan 63); C Healy, R Best (S Cronin 75), M Ross (T Court 75); D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (L Cullen 73); D Leamy, D Wallace, S O'Brien. Sin-bin D Leamy.
Referee R Poite (France).
The match statistics...
Italy 1 Tries Ireland 1
Italy 0/1 Conversions Ireland 1/1
Italy 2/3 Penalties Ireland 1/1
Italy 0/2 Drop goals Ireland 1/1
Phases of play
Italy 2 Scrums won Ireland 3
Italy 0 Scrums lost Ireland 0
Italy 17 Lineouts won Ireland 9
Italy 2 Lineouts lost Ireland 0
Italy 5 Pens conceded Ireland 13
Italy 10 Mauls won Ireland 3
Italy 7 Ruck and drive Ireland 13
Italy 73 Ruck and pass Ireland 86Team statistics
Italy 124 Passes made Ireland 193
Italy 1 Line breaks Ireland 2
Italy 19 Possession kicked Ire 21
Italy 3 Kicks to touch Ireland 7
Italy 112 Tackles made Ireland 94
Italy 7 Tackles missed Ireland 3
Italy 3 Offloads in tackle Ireland 6
Italy 8 Total errors made Ireland 14
Italy 90 In open play Ireland 102
Italy 14 In opponent's 22 Ireland 22
Italy 32 At set-pieces Ireland 17
Italy 1 Turnovers won Ireland 4Reuse content