Tom Tierney’s first competitive game in charge of the Ireland Women saw them outscore Italy by five tries to one in a 30-5 Six Nations win in Florence.
Newly-appointed captain Niamh Briggs converted her own try for a 7-0 half-time lead, with the Italians guilty of losing their discipline.
Paula Fitzpatrick powered over after the break and Jenny Murphy scored from her own kick through. Forwards Heather O'Brien and Gillian Bourke added further efforts before Maria Magatti's late consolation score.
Given the bitterly cold conditions at Stadio Mario Lodigiani and the opposition provided by an abrasive Italian side, this was an encouraging opening to the Championship from the girls in green.
There would have been nerves aplenty before kick-off with a number of uncapped players in the squad, including lively debutant winger Hannah Tyrrell, and hugely influential figures such as former head coach Philip Doyle and retired duo Fiona Coghlan and Lynne Cantwell now departed.
In their absence, full-back Briggs, picked out as the player of the match, led by example on the pitch, although given her high standards she would have been disappointed with her return from the kicking tee.
After a lively opening quarter – with strong carries from the likes of Sophie Spence and Fitzpatrick – and a period of persistent pressure from Tom Tierney's side, Briggs opened the scoring, with her try coming directly from scrum possession as Heather O'Brien linked well with Larissa Muldoon. The Waterford woman duly turned it into a seven-pointer.
The remainder of the first half was played at a frantic pace as the durable Italians pressed through full-back Manuela Furlan whose rapier-like running created a half chance. However, Ireland showed plenty of grit and determination in keeping their line intact.
English referee Sara Cox awarded a string of consecutive penalties to Ireland due to the persistent infringements around the ruck from Italy. The stiff breeze prevented Briggs from taking her team into double figures before the interval.
Nonetheless, the Italian resistance, dented by prop Elisa Cucchiella's sin-binning, gave in after just four minutes into the second period when blindside flanker Fitzpatrick drove over the line. Briggs failed to add the extras with the swirling wind playing its part.
The captain atoned for this miss just minutes later with a superb long range penalty kick. The Italian defence wilted again in the 58th minute as inside centre Murphy hacked through and touched down to make it 20-0.
Despite her patchy place-kicking, Briggs was a constant threat with ball in hand and she looked as if she had scored on a couple of occasions, only for the try to be disallowed for a forward pass.
However, with 15 minutes left, number 8 O'Brien crossed the line from another solid Irish scrum, at the heart of which was loosehead prop Ruth O'Reilly, Coghlan's successor in the number 1 jersey who was winning her fourth cap.
Debutant Katie Fitzhenry, who was introduced off the bench, made a slashing break to light up the Irish attack once more. Italy were tiring and their defensive workload took its toll as hooker Bourke got over the line with a little over five minutes remaining.
The Irish management sent on all eight replacements as Sene Naoupu, Sarah Mimnagh, Fiona O'Brien and Katie Norris joined Tyrrell and Fitzhenry in earning their first Ireland caps, although Norris was sin-binned in the 79th minute for not rolling away quickly enough.
The home side boosted their spirits with a try in the final play, replacement Magatti getting over in the corner. But it failed to take the gloss off a satisfying win for Ireland who march on to face the French at 'fortress Ashbourne' in a week's time.
TIME LINE: 20 minutes – Ireland try: Niamh Briggs – 5-0; conversion: Niamh Briggs – 7-0; Half-time – Italy 0 Ireland 7; 42 mins – Italy yellow card: Elisa Cucchiella; 44 mins – Ireland try: Paula Fitzpatrick – 0-12; conversion: missed by Niamh Briggs – 0-12; 56 mins – Ireland penalty: Niamh Briggs – 15-0; 58 mins – Ireland try: Jenny Murphy – 0-20; conversion: missed by Niamh Briggs – 0-20; 65 mins – Ireland try: Heather O'Brien – 0-25; conversion: missed by Niamh Briggs – 0-25; 74 mins – Ireland try: Gillian Bourke – 0-30; conversion: missed by Niamh Briggs – 0-30; 79 mins – Ireland yellow card: Katie Norris; 80 mins – Italy try: Maria Magatti – 5-30; conversion: ; Full-time – Italy 5 Ireland 30
Referee: Sara Cox (England)