Ireland's hopes of putting their World Cup nightmare finally behind them suffered a setback on Saturday when they stumbled to a 16-11 victory over Italy in their Six Nations opener.
Both sides scored a single try - Girvan Dempsey for the Irish and Italian captain Sergio Parisse - but it was thanks to Ronan O'Gara's 11 points that the hosts eked out a barely deserved win with virtually the same team that destroyed the same opponents 51-24 in last season's Six Nations.
'Maybe it wasn't the performance I wanted, but sometimes you have to win ugly and today we dug out an ugly victory,' said Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan.
Adding to Ireland's problems was the news that centre Gordon D'Arcy had suffered a fractured forearm and has been ruled out of the rest of the Six Nations.
'I didn't enjoy the first half. I thought we were comprehensively outplayed and were lucky only to have one try scored against us,' said new Italy coach Nick Mallett.
'We needed to tighten up in the second half and we were better defensively.
'I didn't think we deserved to win but I'm proud of the way we defended and we put together some good passages of play.'
The first-half was a flat affair as the Irish tried to settle into some sort of rhythm, while the Italians lacked the necessary spark to rattle the home defence.
However, O'Gara eventually put the hosts on the board as he slotted over a penalty in the 11th minute much to the relief of the Croke Park crowd.
The Irish could well have grabbed the opening try in the 15th minute, but winger Geordan Murphy spoilt his excellent catch out on the left touchline with a poor pass behind Dempsey, who otherwise had a clear run to the line.
Nevertheless Dempsey did cross the tryline three minutes later after a superbly worked score.
O'Gara, in command throughout the match, chipped over the Italian defence, Andrew Trimble caught it and unselfishly passed inside to the Leinster fullback, who touched down for his 19th try in his 79th test.
O'Gara converted to give him 400 points in the Six Nations tournament.
However, the Irish then went off the boil and they also lost centre Gordon D'Arcy with what looked like a wrist injury.
By the end of the half, and despite having been reduced to 14 men after lock Santiago Dellape was sin-binned, a penalty by David Bortolussi saw Italy go in only 10-3 down.
The second-half saw Ireland start on the front foot, but they ruined several promising positions with simple errors.
Matters got worse when, in the 48th minute, flanker Simon Easterby was yellow carded by referee Jonathan Kaplan for blatantly handling in the ruck, giving the Italians renewed hope.
Easterby was not to return as the highly-regarded Leinster No 8 Jamie Heaslip replaced him ten minutes later.
Bortolussi, whose late penalty miss against Scotland in the World Cup cost his side a place in the last eight, failed to make the Irish pay for another infringement when he sent his penalty wide from the halfway line with just under half an hour to go.
However, the Irish seemed to be sparked into life by this near miss and produced some of their better rugby with O'Gara imperious with ball in hand, pinning the Italians back at every opportunity.
After man of the match Eoin Reddan's pass had been deliberately knocked forward by an Italian defender, O'Gara added a penalty to make it 13-3.
The Italians, though, were not cowed and, with an hour to go, they pulled to within five points, as Parisse was credited with a try after much TMO deliberation, the Italian scrum having forced their way over the line.
Bortolussi failed to convert and the difference between the two kickers was highlighted moments later, as O'Gara gave the hosts some breathing space with a penalty to make it 16-8 with 15 minutes remaining.
The lead was reduced to five points with 10 minutes left as Bortolussi converted an easy penalty, but the visitors could not bridge the gap and Ireland escaped with the win.