IRELAND 23 ITALY 20, Ravenhill (Att: 14,100)
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Andrew Trimble, Ronan Oâ00Gara; Cons: Ronan Oâ00Gara 2; Pens: Ronan Oâ00Gara 2; Drop: Ronan Oâ00Gara
Italy: Tries: Alessandro Troncon; Matteo Pratichetti; Cons: David Bortolussi, Roland De Marigny; Pen: David Bortolussi; Drop: David Bortolussi
Ireland required a last-gasp try from O'Gara to see off a determined Italian side who were arguably the better team on the night, but Eddie O'Sullivan's charges will take heart from how they bounced back from conceding what looked like being the match-winning try to Matteo Pratichetti.
After an Irish attack had broken down, the Italian winger hacked ahead and was in the right place at the right time to scoop up the loose ball and touch down in the third-minute of injury-time.
The Azzurri celebrated what seemed to be the clinching try, which Roland De Marigny turned into a seven-pointer. But six minutes later, the game had swung back in Ireland's favour after O'Gara had cut through for a try despite the best efforts of Kaine Robertson.
Welsh referee Nigel Owens sought confirmation of the grounding from his countryman Derek Bevan, the television match offical, and despite some initial doubts it duly came - much to the relief of the capacity Ravenhill crowd.
O'Gara converted to complete a personal haul of 18 points and the Irish players breathed a collective sigh of relief on a night when rustiness was evident and little came off for them.
Ireland had started at a considerable rate of knots with Denis Leamy's third-minute burst over the halfway line, set up by a peach of a pass from O'Gara, raising the decibel level.
Having got behind Italy's first line of defence, the Irish should have made them pay with a try but Denis Hickie's decision to hold onto possession rather than pass left to the unmarked Girvan Dempsey saw the attack peter out.
Backed by a blustery wind, Italy dominated territorially in the opening half but that early bout of pressure yielded a central penalty for O'Gara which he easily converted.
Errors then crept into the Irish game, their probing through the middle was gaining little reward as a blue defensive wall soon formed. Massive pressure from the Italian eight at scrum time was also disheartening for the Irish who were forced back into their 22 by a series of touch-finding kicks.
Ireland's lineout functioned well throughout, with captain for the night Paul O'Connell prominent in the early stages, and the hosts were still looking the more dangerous in attack with Andrew Trimble scoring a try only to be called back for an earlier knock on.
Italian full-back David Bortolussi then levelled the game at 3-3 when he thumped a superb drop goal from the ten-metre line through the uprights, and some spice was added to the encounter when midway through the half Sergio Parisse clocked Stringer with a cheap shot and a minor brawl ensued.
There were no yellow cards issued but the incident got Ireland's dander up. An O'Gara garryowen was chased with relish and Bortulussi went from hero to villain when he failed to collect the kick, leaving the alert Trimble to follow through on the kick and dot down after the ball had run on over the visitors' try line.
O'Gara added the extras for a 10-3 score-line and an expectant Ravenhill demanded more of the same. Ireland, however, failed to push on from that score and a Bortolussi penalty got Italy back within striking range.
Their first real penetrating back-line attack came late in the half and led to a try for veteran scrum half Alessandro Troncon who was making his 97th Test match appearance.
Pratichetti was hauled to the ground, an Irish infringement followed but the wily Troncon, just ten metres from the Irish try line, opted to tap and go and it was the right decision as he plunged over through the tackles of O'Connell and John Hayes for a try which TV match offical Bevan confirmed. Bortolussi fired over the conversion for a 13-10 half-time lead for Italy who had never won a match on Irish soil before.
Just as they had done in the opening half, Ireland began the second period with a lot of purpose and winger Murphy increased his influence with a couple of yard-gaining runs. Flanker Neil Best was also throwing himself about with some trademark tackles.
O'Gara landed an early penalty to draw his side level at 13-13 and a scrappy 20 minutes followed as the breakdown battle became key. Italy impressed in this area and again in the scrum with their hulking front row hoping to turn the screw.
Having been pinned in their half for some time, Ireland got a chance to counter attack through Trimble and when he released Hickie on the left flank the Italian rearguard looked exposed.
A chip over the top from Hickie saw Robertson haring back to recover the ball and he ran it back with gusto, showing the will Italy had to end their World Cup preparations on a winning note.
But O'Gara soon pinged over an excellent drop goal to nose Ireland into a 16-13 lead and with time running out and the error count increasing for both sides, that looked to be the most important kick of the game.
Nonetheless, the script was torn up in injury-time when a fumble at a ruck from Stringer allowed Italy get back on the front foot and a lightning-quick charge forward ended with Pratichetti darting in behind the Irish posts.
De Marigny converted but there was still time for Ireland to wrestle back the lead and save face with a neat pass from Trimble sending O'Gara over to the left of the posts.
TIME LINE: 6 minutes â00 Ireland penalty: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 3-0; 22 mins â00 Italy drop goal: David Bortolussi â00 3-3; 27 mins â00 Ireland try: Andrew Trimble â00 8-3; conversion: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 10-3; 33 mins â00 Italy penalty: David Bortolussi â00 10-6; 38 mins â00 Italy try: Alessandro Troncon â00 10-11; conversion: David Bortolussi â00 10-13; Half-time â00 Ireland 10 Italy 13; 47 mins â00 Ireland penalty: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 13-13; 78 mins â00 Ireland drop goal: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 16-13; 80+3 mins â00 Italy try: Matteo Pratichetti â00 16-18; conversion: Roland De Marigny â00 16-20; 80+9 mins â00 Ireland try: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 21-20; conversion: Ronan Oâ00Gara â00 23-20; Full-time â00 Ireland 23 Italy 20
Ireland: Girvan Dempsey; Geordan Murphy, Andrew Trimble, Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Rory Best, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell (capt), Simon Easterby, Neil Best, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Simon Best for Hayes (71 mins), Malcolm Oâ00Kelly for Oâ00Connell (74), Jerry Flannery for R Best (77), Isaac Boss for Stringer, Brian Carney for Hickie (both 80+5). Not used: Alan Quinlan, Paddy Wallace.
Italy: David Bortolussi; Kaine Robertson, Gonzalo Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, Matteo Pratichetti; Roland De Marigny, Alessandro Troncon; Salvatore Perugini, Fabio Ongaro, Martin Castrogiovanni, Valerio Bernabo, Marco Bortolami (capt), Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri, Sergio Parisse.
Replacements used: Manoa Vosawai for Barbieri (half-time), Ezio Galon for Bortolussi (47 mins), Matias Aguero for Perugini (52), Perugini for Castrogiovanni (64), Josh Sole for Vosawai (68), Paul Griffen for Canale (71), Pablo Canavosio for Bergamasco (80+1). Not used: Leonardo Ghiraldini.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch Judges: Dave Pearson (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)