LONDON: Ireland booked their quarter-final place at the World Cup but only after having to withstand a strong challenge from a Sergio Parisse-inspired Italy at Olympic Park.
Keith Earls’s 19th-minute try helped Ireland lead 10-3 but a second Tommaso Allan penalty cut the margin to four.
Ireland needed a last-ditch Peter O’Mahony tackle on Josh Furno to stay ahead after the break.
Allan’s third penalty reduced Ireland’s lead to the minimum before two relieving Johnny Sexton kicks in reply.
Better line-out work from the Italians could have seen them earn a shock victory with the Irish making three vital steals during the contest.
Ireland needed another heroic performance from lock Iain Henderson as his series of carries were in marked contrast to the largely ineffective efforts of the Ireland back row.
Scrum-half Conor Murray had an afternoon to forget as many of the struggles of Ireland’s warm-up matches re-emerged.
After Italy’s insipid effort against France and struggle to overcome Canada, most pundits were expecting Ireland to win by a similar margin to the 36-6 victory at the last World Cup.
However, as Quintin Geldenhuys predicted on Friday, the return of Parisse made the Italians a totally different proposition.
The Stade Francais star showed his intent from the off by running at the Irish defence and even demonstrated a canny kicking game as the contest went on.
Parisse was superbly supported by his back-row colleague Simone Favaro while scrum-half Edoardo Gori dominated his battle with off-colour Murray.
The Irish needed a series of vital line-out steals and Henderson’s heroics to keep the Italians at bay.