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Italy claimed a first-ever RBS Six Nations win over Ireland as they signed off their campaign with a 22-15 victory at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome.
Winger Giovambattista Venditti went over for the game's only try early in the second half with a ragged Ireland left to rue indiscipline and misfortune as they saw three men sin-binned and three forced off through injury on their way to a fourth successive defeat - their worst-ever run in the championship.
Ireland did make a positive start and were rewarded on four minutes when Italy's stretched defence were penalised just outside their own 22, allowing Paddy Jackson a simple opportunity to open the scoring.
Italy responded 10 minutes later after their first excursion into the Irish 22; Luciano Orquera's superb kick to touch from a penalty had put them in position and, after Ireland had been forced into another infringement to narrowly prevent the hosts' pack from driving over, the fly-half stepped up to slot a regulation kick to level matters.
Orquera saw a second penalty attempt cannon off an upright at the midway point of the half, but Ireland were not so fortunate just a couple of minutes later as he rediscovered his range with a more difficult attempt after the visitors were again pinged at the breakdown.
Ireland's attempts to reassert themselves were then severely disrupted as backs Keith Earls, Luke Marshall and Luke Fitzgerald were all forced off through injury, the latter replaced by forward Iain Henderson - prompting flanker Peter O'Mahony to drop back and operate as a makeshift winger - while frustrated skipper Brian O'Driscoll spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for stamping on an opponent.
Things got worse for Ireland as centre Gonzalo Garcia stepped up to boot a penalty from close to halfway to extend the lead, but there was some relief for the embattled visitors on the stroke of half-time as Jackson kicked his second penalty to make the interval score 9-6.
It was Italy who started the second period very much on the front foot with Ireland having to defend their try-line stoutly, but pressure told on 49 minutes with Venditti forcing his way over in the corner for a touchdown ultimately awarded by the TMO, which Orquera converted impressively.
Ireland were offered renewed hope shortly afterwards as Italy's talismanic captain Sergio Parisse was shown a yellow card for a trip on Ian Madigan and, having kicked the subsequent penalty, Jackson then landed his fourth moments later to bring the Declan Kidney's men back within four.
With momentum very much with them, Ireland enjoyed their best spell of the game as they set up camp in the Italy 22, but they were forced to settle for a fifth penalty from Jackson to make the score 16-15 as a beleaguered Italy welcomed Parisse back into the fray.
The captain's return seemed to settle the Azzurri and although Garcia missed a long-range penalty attempt, they regained control of the match with ten minutes remaining as Donnacha Ryan was sin-binned for a late hit on scrum-half Edoardo Gori allowing Orquera to kick his third penalty.
Conor Murray then compounded Ireland's woes as he saw yellow late on for tripping an opponent off the ball and Orquera put a gloss on the victory as he slotted another penalty with the final kick of the match.
|RBS Six Nations|
|Saturday 22nd February|
|RBS Six Nations|
|England 13 - 10 Ireland|
|Italy 20 - 21 Scotland|
|Friday 21st February|
|Wales 27 - 6 France|
|Sunday 9th February|
|France 30 - 10 Italy|
|Saturday 8th February|
|Scotland 0 - 20 England|
|Ireland 26 - 3 Wales|
|Sunday 2nd February|
|Ireland 28 - 6 Scotland|
|Saturday 1st February|
|France 26 - 24 England|
|Wales 23 - 15 Italy|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Stuart Barnes with skysports.com