Ireland broke clear of Italy in the second half to post their opening win in this season’s Women’s RBS 6 Nations in Rovigo on Sunday.
The girls in green led 8-5 at the break after a tough opening half in which Italy pressured them into mistakes, but three second half tries were enough to secure a confidence-boosting victory.
In the opening half hour, the hosts put serious pressure on the Irish attack, and though Ireland had plenty of possession, unforced errors meant they could not turn their pressure into points.
In fact, it was Italy who took the lead when patient build-up helped lock Flavia Severin over the line. The missed conversion meant that the Azzurri led 5-0 after a dogged first half hour.
But the concession of the try seemed to spur Ireland on and Philip Doyle's charges soon made their mark on the match.
First, impressive full-back Niamh Briggs kicked a penalty to bring her side within three, and then a superb try from the debutant winger Niamh Kavanagh, who had to dash 40 yards and beat a number of defenders on her way to the line, meant the Irish went into half-time with the advantage.
Ireland's dominance continued once the second half got underway in front of a 3,000-strong crowd. There was an immediate penalty from Briggs.
Another of Ireland's new faces, centre Geraldine Rea, was also having a very useful day. The Highfield clubwoman, who was later named player of the match, was a lynchpin of the Irish midfield.
Finally, the Irish were able to put some daylight between the sides when hooker Gillian Bourke crashed over in the 54th minute and Ireland made sure of the win with further tries from flanker Claire Molloy (68 minutes) and winger Mairead Kelly (74).
Particularly pleasing for Ireland was the performance of their international newcomers – seven in all. The victory will mean that despite an excellent opening day triumph for France, the Irish will not fear the French when they welcome them to Ashbourne next week.
Speaking after the game, Irish head coach Philip Doyle said: “With a brand new squad this season, Italy away from home was always going to be a tough game to open our year.
“They delivered on the physicality we were expecting and I'm delighted to come away with a win. It was great to see Niamh (Kavanagh) and Ger (Rea) do so well – these are new players for us and they were outstanding.
“I would also give credit to the Rovigo crowd for making the day so enjoyable. There was a big crowd here and there was plenty of noise and colour.”
The players earning their first caps for Ireland were Kavanagh and Rea, along with replacements Stacey Kennedy, Deirdre O'Brien, Heather O'Brien, Larissa Muldoon and Gill Nolan. There was also a welcome return from injury for prop Lauren Day.
For more on the Women's Six Nations and news on the international game, please visit www.scrumqueens.com.
Referee: Joyce Henry (Canada)