The good start Cunningham referred to saw the Willie Anderson coached Irish take the lead on six minutes with a try from London Irish left-wing Edward Hoadley. That was followed by a second try from right-wing Richard Lane (UCC) in the 24th minute as the Irish spread the ball wide at every opportunity. Scrum-half Daragh Geraghty (UCD) added the popints to that score and was on target again when Hoadley scooted in for his second try just before the interval.
The home side clawed their way back to within two points (19-17) before the Irish extended the lead following a try in the 60th minute from Edinburgh University flanker Richard Simms.
However, the home side then closed the gap with a penalty and, much to the delight of their supporters, scored a converted try two minutes into injury time to snatch victory.
The best finish the Irish can now hope for is ninth place and given they had set a target of a top five finish, this represents a huge disappointment. They play Korea on Sunday afternoon while the Italians go on to play the defending champions New Zealand.