Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan believes there is reason to be wary of Italy in their RBS 6 Nations opener on Sunday after watching them develop into a more complete side.
Italy's traditional strength has been up front, where their pack is capable of mixing with any team in the championship, but they have often lacked a cutting edge behind the scrum.
However, O'Sullivan believes the influence of John Kirwan - the former New Zealand winger who was appointed Azzurri coach three years ago - is starting to bear fruit.
"Italy have changed their style. John Kirwan has worked very hard at adding extra dimensions into their game," he said.
"There was a time that when you played Italy, if you were able to contain them physically you could beat them. But it is different now.
"John was one of the best wingers in the world in his time and his style has started to rub off on the team. Their defensive system is also tighter.
"I thought they had a good autumn series, giving the United States a good tonking and enjoying some fine spells against the All Blacks. They are maturing.
"Their top team Treviso acquitted themselves superbly in the Heineken Cup while some of their players are with Stade Francais and the bigger clubs abroad, so they're picking up experience.
"We are tuned into the fact that nothing short of a very solid performance will be good enough on Sunday."
Italy are still unlikely to dent Ireland's Grand Slam ambitions - even at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome where they have beaten Wales and Scotland in previous tournament openers.
O'Sullivan has announced a full-strength side, with last year's player of the tournament Gordon D'Arcy returning to the centres and in-form Munster back row Denis Leamy taking the openside duties.
If Ireland gain parity up front - which is easier said than done against the robust Italian pack - then their backs should outclass their opponents.
"We have a strong squad at the moment but over the next seven weeks there will be a fair bit of attrition," O'Sullivan added.
"You need a bit of luck if you're playing five Tests in seven weeks. When you start with a full deck it means you have some room to manoeuvre. If you start with injuries it can make life very difficult."