Second-half surge leads Ireland Women to opening win
Ireland Women kicked off their assault on the Women's Six Nations with a comfortable 30-5 victory over Italy Women in Florence.
New skipper Niamh Briggs grabbed the only score of the first half as Ireland finally got their reward for a barrage on the Italian line, before Paula Fitzpatrick's second-half double and tries from Jenny Murphy and Heather O'Brien sealed the win - although the hosts grabbed a late consolation try.
Ireland began the game the stronger side dominating possession and after the Italians were penalised for holding on after 12 minutes, Briggs was able to kick for the corner and the Irish piled on the pressure through a series of five-metre scrums.
And despite some determined defending from the hosts, Briggs herself was eventually able to make the breakthrough after 20 minutes, when she burst over the line to the right of the posts after some quick-ball from the scrum.
The full-back converted her own try to make it 7-0, but Italy hit back straight away with their first meaningful possession in the Ireland half.
The hosts built the phases to surge into the Ireland 22 on 25 minutes, before being called back for a forward pass from Manuela Furlan as she looked to send Michela Sillari into the left corner.
There was still time in the half for Briggs to have a shot at goal after an Italian indiscretion at the breakdown, but she sent her effort right of the posts to leave it 7-0 at the interval.
Ireland did not have to wait long for another score in the second-half, as Italian prop Elisa Cucchiella saw yellow with 42 minutes on the clock and Fitzpatrick went over in the left corner after a maul from the resulting penalty.
Briggs left the conversion short and then saw her 53rd minute penalty drift wide as well as the wet and windy conditions made kicking tough.
But a superb kick from Ireland's captain four minutes later saw them stretch their lead to 15, Briggs striking a 30m effort under the wind and through the posts.
Things went from bad to worse for the hosts with 59 minutes played, as the ball escaped the grasp of Veronica Schiavon on halfway, and Jackie Shiels hacked the loose ball up towards the line for Murphy to finish in the left corner to make it 20-0.
Murphy thought she had another three minutes later as she went over in the corner, but Ireland were hauled back for a forward pass in the build up.
But a huge Green surge turned the resulting scrum over and O'Brien emerged from the drive with the ball to score.
Fitzpatrick added her second after 73 minutes from yet another maul with the Ireland scrum again putting immense pressure on the hosts.
Italy put some late pressure on the Ireland line as they looked to give the emphatic home support something to cheer about, and got their reward when Flavia Severin broke through the line and Furlan was able to feed replacement Maria Magatti to dive over in the corner with the last play of the game.