Ireland succumbed to a first defeat to Italy in the Six Nations after an indisciplined afternoon at the Stadio Olimpico when the injury jinx that has blighted their season also came back to haunt them.
If, as expected, this was to be Brian O’Driscoll’s last match for Ireland it was not the way to end such a celebrated career as the finest player his country has produced. Apart from the result, O’Driscoll spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for stamping and was fortunate to escape a red card for an offence that is sure to result in a suspension.
Small consolation came when France could not beat Scotland by the necessary margin tonight to avoid the wooden spoon, meaning Ireland finished fifth in the championship.
From an early stage the Irish were in disarray, plugging holes left by injury and crumbling before a fired-up Italian side inspired by their omnipresent skipper Sergio Parisse and retiring prop Andrea Lo Cicero.
Lo Cicero, Italy’s most capped player who was appearing in his final Test, drank in the applause as he departed in the final quarter and he could have envisaged few better outcomes than today’s for his send-off.
Once more Declan Kidney was left firefighting a staggering succession of injuries that accounted for wing Keith Earls and centre Luke Marshall after only 25 minutes.
Substitute Luke Fitzgerald then limped off shortly before half-time and having run out of three-quarter replacements other than scrumhalf Paul Marshall, flanker Peter O'Mahony was deployed on the left wing.
Wing Giovanbattista Venditti burrowed over for the game's only try in the 49th minute, but Italy could have finished with several more and were grateful that Luciano Orquera and Gonzalo Garcia had brought their kicking boots.
The petulance that swept into Ireland's game was disappointing with Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray following O'Driscoll into the sin-bin, with the place kicking of Paddy Jackson — who finished with all 15 of his side's points — as one of the few positives.
Jackson was soon into the swing of things when referee Wayne Barnes penalised the Azzurri for offside, the Ulster fly-half obliging with the three points.
Ireland were at panic stations in the 14th minute when they were pushed back to their whitewash by a lineout catch and drive and only desperate defending and a penalty kept Italy at bay with Orquera on target to level the score.
A scrum-half break from Edoardo Gori, that saw him combine superbly with Parisse, was evidence that the Azzurri's confidence was growing.
Orquera struck the left upright with a second penalty but was successful with a third, giving Italy a lead they fully deserved.
Time and again the Azzurri broke the gainline with Parisse prominent and in one glorious moment a long line of blue shirts was spread before the posts only for a lazy pass from Orquera to ruin the chance.
Jackson missed a tricky penalty and Ireland's problems deepened when O'Driscoll was sin-binned for stamping on flanker Simone Favaro.
Once more the visiting defence looked set to crack but Italy were betrayed by their composure at a crucial moment.
A monster penalty from centre Garcia ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over, but Jackson replied on the stroke of half time amid a deafening chorus of boos from home fans irate at Barnes's failure to punish Rob Kearney for shoving Luke McClean in the face.
The one-way traffic continued to flow towards the Irish line and inevitably they cracked, wing Venditti burrowing beneath a pile of green shirts to score a try that was confirmed by the TMO.
The near-touchline conversion was landed by Orquera, giving Italy a 10-point lead, but Parisse was sin-binned for tripping substitute Ian Madigan and in his absence Jackson kicked two penalties.
The final quarter began with an all-out assault on the Italian line with O'Mahony and wing Craig Gilroy making the biggest inroads.
The Azzurri infringed in front of the posts, allowing Jackson to kick his fifth penalty, but Parisse returned to the fray to steady the ship.
Gori came crashing down to the turf, landing on his head, after colliding with Devin Toner but the scrumhalf eventually rose to his feet and Barnes was correct to leave Toner unpunished.
Ryan was shown a yellow card and Orquera dispatched a long-range three points, before Murray then followed his Munster colleague into the sin-bin for an off-the ball challenge.
The offence reduced Ireland to 13 men for a spell and Italy would not be denied with Orquera slotting a late penalty to complete the victory.
Italy: Andrea Masi (Wasps); Giovanbattista Venditti (Zebre), Gonzalo Canale (Stade Rochelais), Gonzalo Garcia (Zebre), Luke McLean (Treviso ); Luciano Orquera (Zebre), Edoardo Gori (Treviso); Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Lorenzo Cittadini (Treviso), Quintin Geldenhuys (Zebre), Joshua Furno (Narbonne), Alessandro Zanni (Treviso), Simone Favaro (Treviso), Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais).
Replacements:Paul Derbyshire (Treviso) for Favaro (57 mins), Francesco Minto (Treviso) for Furno (57 mins), Michele Rizzo (Treviso) for Lo Cicero (64 mins), Antonio Pavanello (Treviso) for Geldenhuys (64 mins), Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso) for Masi (65 mins), Tobias Botes (Treviso) for Gori (74 mins), Alberto De Marchi (Treviso) for Cittadini (74 mins), Davide Giazzon (Zebre) for Ghiraldini (74 mins).
Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster ); Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster); Paddy Jackson (Ulster), 9-Conor Murray, 1-Cian Healy (Leinster), 2-Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Mike McCarthy, Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien(Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster, capt).
Replacements: Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster) for Earls (24 mins), Ian Madigan (Leinster) for Marshall (27 mins), Iain Henderson (Ulster) for Fitzgerald (36 mins), Devin Toner (Leinster) for McCarthy (64 mins), Stephen Archer (Munster) for Ross (66 mins), Seán Cronin (Leinster) for Best (69 mins), David Kilcoyne (Munster) for Healy (69 mins), Paul Marshall (Ulster) for Ryan (79 mins.