Italy 5 Ireland 30
Brand new coaching ticket and utter change to their core leadership but business as usual for Ireland. They backed up last August’s run to the world cup semi-final with a structurally sound dismissal of Italy on the outskirts of Florence.
"We knew that if we kept it tight we had an experienced group of forwards and they would turn it for us but we are still in learning mode for the way we want to play," said new coach Tom Tierney afterwards.
Despite the mass exodus from this group - on and off the field - it was familiar faces who guided them away from any hint of a stumble.
Niamh Briggs has taken more responsibility on her shoulders, if that's possible, with the captaincy but, in equal measure, the Waterford Garda paid heed to other veterans up front.
That’s the tightrope facing a fullback and place-kicker who leads but Claire Molloy and company quickly realised they had the technique to maul and scrum Italy into submission.
If not for a few misguided flings by hooker Gillian Bourke - granted, the wind was swirling and fingers frost bitten - Ireland would have been out of sight by half-time.
The 7-0 lead should have been double but there were some obvious new dimensions to the attack; most notably the improved and increased number of carries from Sophie Spence. The Old Belvedere lock rivalled the ever-present Paula Fitzpatrick for yards over the gainline. The kind of yards that build a scoring platform.
But only one try was banked before the break with Briggs, of course, taking matters into her own hands when the Irish pack could not convince referee Sarah Cox they had legitimately muscled over the whitewash (Fitzpatrick was denied what looked a perfectly executed score).
That first try took all of a sustained, if nervy, 20-minute assault, before Heather O'Brien picked and attacked right with the much improved Larissa Muldoon ensuring possession got to the captain.
Briggs converted but missed a penalty she would normally land in her sleep. The yips stayed with her all game.
Another few scores seemed necessary to finish off willing but poor opposition. Italy looked to attack from deep at every opportunity but this only invited Molloy, Muldoon or the always dangerous Jenny Murphy to go digging for a turnover.
Muldoon earned one such penalty; the Donegal scrumhalf clearly repaying Tierney - a decent nine himself once upon a time - for choosing her over Tania Rosser with some smart play.
Ironically Rosser’s presence in the squad has probably contributed to Muldoon’s improved and lengthened range of passing.
A long overdue Italian sin-binning came two minutes into the second half with Elisa Cucchiella yellow carded for the latest refusal to allow clean Irish ball. Briggs ignored the three points and was rewarded when Fitzpatrick rumbled over.
Briggs couldn’t rediscover her range with the conversion. Again, the conditions played their part.
Of the unfamiliar faces on show, loosehead prop Ruth O'Reilly didn't look out of place nor did right wing Hannah Tyrrell. The former Dublin football goalkeeper still needs time to adapt to 15-aside rugby having primarily switched to play Sevens, but she looks a real find.
Briggs did have a brutal night off the kicking tee but it was interesting to see Muldoon cajoling her back into the present tense when she squandered another sitter. The wind was kinder on 56 minutes when she finally made it a three-score game.
Two minutes later it became a procession when Murphy, warming to her new outside centre role, won the race to her own fly hack.
Another Murphy break and offload put Briggs over but Cox correctly disallowed it for a forward pass. Ireland’s scrum wasn’t long wrestling back possession to gift O’Brien the fourth try.
Fitzpatrick helped herself to a fifth, her second, and the woman of the match award. Briggs was the official winner but it belonged to a forward or Muldoon.
France come to Ashbourne next Friday. They won’t be mauled. Different prospect, different story guaranteed, but impressive start to a new era.
Scoring sequence - 20 mins: N Briggs try, 5-0; N Briggs conv, 7-0. Half-time. 44 mins: P Fitzpatrick try, 12-0; 56 mins: N Briggs pen, 15-0; 58 mins: J Murphy try, 20-0; 65 mins: H O'Brien try, 25-0; 74 mins: P Fitzpatrick try, 30-0; 80 mins: M Magatti try, 30-5.
Ireland: N Briggs; H Tyrrell, J Murphy, J Shiels, A Miller; N Stapleton, L Muldoon; R O'Reilly, G Bourke, A Egan; S Spence, ML Reilly; P Fitzpatrick, C Molloy, H O'Brien. Replacements: F Hayes for R O'Reilly, K Fitzhenry for J Shiels, O Fitzsimons for ML Reilly (all 69 mins) , S Naoupu for A Miller, S Mimnagh for G Bourke, F O'Brien for A Egan, K Norris for P Fitzpatrick (all 75 mins) , T Rosser for L Muldoon (78 mins).
Italy: M Furlan, M Veronese, S Stefan, M Cioffi, M Sillari, V Schiavon, S Barattin, E Cucchiella, L Cammarano, M Bettoni, F Severin, A Trevisan, I Arrighetti, E Giordano, S Gaudino (capt). Replacements: V Ruzza for I Arrighetti (49 mins), P Zangirolmami for M Cioffi, B Rigoni for M Veronese (both 53 mins), M Magatti for S Stefan (68 mins).
Referee: S Cox (England).