The bonus-point win is what Ireland came for, and the Grand Slam dreams will live for a fortnight at least.

With six changes made to this team from the resounding win against France earlier this month, Ireland's ability to maintain continuity and cohesion was probably the biggest question on people’s lips coming into this game – no disrespect to Italy.

And while the attack produced in flashes and they scored five excellent tries in the 34-20 victory, their ability to defend when things get fast and loose remains unanswered, and will be further tested by Scotland.

It says a lot about how far Italy have come that when Ross Byrne kicked a penalty on 65 minutes to send Ireland back into a seven-point lead at 27-20, it felt like the right call.

On multiple occasions, particularly in the opening half, it looked like Ireland had landed the knock-out punch on the visitors, and in years gone by it would have been enough. But Kieran Crowley’s side seem to play with little to no short-term memory.

Mack Hansen was name Player of the Match after scoring two tries

Just as they did against France, they caused Ireland huge problems defensively. Garry Ringrose was sorely missed in Ireland’s backline, with Bundee Aki and Stuart McCloskey’s partnership exposed at times by the lively Italian runners.

Aki, in particular, had a day of ups and downs. He was central to almost every positive Irish attack in the opening half, but on the other side of the ball he missed tackles and misjudged reads, before an intercepted pass on the stroke of half time brought Italy right back into the game at 24-17.

On their first Six Nations starts, Craig Casey and Ross Byrne looked solid, without being spectacular. Casey brought his usual energy and mixed it with composure, particularly at the start of the second half when it was needed.

The pair stitched the attack together, and it was in attack that Ireland looked superb in the opening quarter; tries for James Ryan, Hugo Keenan and Aki were followed up by Mack Hansen’s bonus-point score on 34 minutes.

And while Italy fought back impressively to make it a four-point game in the final quarter, a Byrne penalty and a second Hansen try in the final 10 minutes ensured there would be no miracle comeback.

Ireland were almost on the board inside 60 seconds, Lowe failing to ground the ball under pressure from Capuozzo in the corner, after a wonderful Aki offload had sent Van der Flier into space.

They needn't have worried. Just seconds later Ireland had the ball back and went back down that left channel. Again, Aki showed delicate hands to send Lowe clear, but this time the wing had captain Ryan on his inside shoulder, and the second row was able to stride his way over for his fifth Test try, and his second of this championship.

Byrne missed the conversion, and after Ireland lost the restart, they soon found themselves behind.

A free-kick at the scrum was taken quickly and moved wide, and after winning a penalty advantage, number 8 Lorenzo Cannone slipped an Aki tackle, and found a gap between Keenan and Byrne to break into the 22. Varney was quick on the spot though, sniping down the blindside, beating the retreating Irish defence to the line to score. Garbisi added the extras to put Italy 7-5 in front.

The hosts had their tails up, and Cannone found a huge gap in the defence moments later to charge into the 22, but this time Andrew Porter came to the rescue with a vital turnover.

Both defences were porous in the opening quarter, and by the 14th minute Ireland were back in front, Keenan breaking through the centre to score for the second game in a row, and Byrne converted to make it 12-7.

Van der Flier, Aki and Hansen all had a hand in the move to send the full-back through, but it was made by the player who didn’t touch the ball, with McCloskey’s brilliant decoy run opening up the space from which the others took advantage.

Garbisi trimmed Ireland’s lead back to 12-10 with a penalty, but on 19 minutes Ireland were in for their third try. It started with Lowe and Aki combining, after the former intercepted a looping pass, and it finished with the same combination down the left win, McCloskey and Van der Flier shifting the ball out wide to Lowe, whose no-look pass back inside allowed Aki run in to score a deserved try after what had been an all-action first 20 minutes from the Connacht man.

After the sugar rush of tries in the opening quarter the game started to become sloppy. Lowe knocked on a routine pass under his own posts, but redeemed things shortly after with a booming clearance kick, while a promising 22 entry for Ireland was ended with an avoidable penalty, after Van der Flier and Porter combined for an obstruction penalty.

On 35 minutes Ireland made their pressure pay, a couple of quick tap-and-go penalties from five metres out eventually allowed Hansen dive over in the right corner to score, Byrne missing his second kick from four to lead the scores at 24-10.

The game looked to be getting away from Italy, until they were handed a route back in right on the stroke of half time. With the clock in the red and Ireland throwing into a lineout just inside the Italian half, they went off the top and Byrne found Aki up the middle, looping back around the centre for the return ball for what would be more commonly known as the 'Sexton wrap’.

Pierre Bruno had been doing his homework though, watching the ball rather than the man, and when Aki’s pass back around to Byrne was too light, the Italian wing pounced to intercept and run in from 60 metres to score.

Garbisi’s conversion was a tap-over, and Ireland’s lead was back down to seven, 24-17, as the sides jogged in for the break.

After such a sloppy end to the opening half, Ireland started in determined fashion after the break. Two scrum penalties in quick succession put them into an attacking position in the 22, and they looked content to play their way through phases, as Italy surrendered more penalties.

The hosts had to survive near 10 minutes of defence in and around the 22, before Niccolo Cannone came up with a huge steal at the lineout, before Kelleher dived off his feet to concede a penalty.

On 56 minutes the gap was cut back to just four points when Garbisi tagged on a penalty to make it 24-20, Porter guilty of an off-the-ball shove on Juan Ignacio Brex that was neither subtle nor necessary.

There was a shift in the mood around Stadio Olimpico. Just short of the hour mark it looked like Ireland had crossed for their fifth try when Aki connected with some lovely handling by Byrne and Hansen to touch down, but a TMO check showed the centre had spilled the ball just before grounding.

When Ryan Baird came up with a crucial breakdown penalty on 63 minutes, Byrne tagged on three more Irish points to put them a converted try in front at 27-20, but the hosts continued to move the ball wide and attack, Giovanni Pettinelli breaking into the 22, only for Ireland to breathe a sigh of relief after Brex's attempted crossfield kick ran too long to end the attack.

Cool heads were needed, and Ireland had them on the bench. Baird continued his impressive cameo with a lovely inside ball to Doris to send Ireland on the front foot, before another replacement Conor Murray spotted tired Italian defenders to snipe down the side of a ruck, offloading inside to Hansen who eased the nerves to run in under the posts.

Byrne’s conversion made it 34-20 with just eight minutes left, dampening the slim hopes of a shock Italian win.

Italy: Ange Capuozzo; Edoardo Padovani, Juan Ignacio Brex, Tommaso Menoncello, Pierre Bruno; Paolo Garbisi, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Simone Ferrari; Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza; Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (capt), Lorenzo Cannone.

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Marco Riccioni, Edoardo Iachizzi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Alessandro Fusco, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Allan.

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; James Lowe, Bundee Aki, Stuart McCloskey, Mack Hansen; Ross Byrne, Craig Casey; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Finlay Bealham; Iain Henderson, James Ryan (capt); Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O'Toole, Ryan Baird, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Jack Crowley, Jimmy O'Brien.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SARU)