Ireland number eight Anthony Foley believes his side's victorious start to the RBS 6 Nations is evidence of their transformation into serious title contenders.
A 28-17 victory at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome saw the Triple Crown holders make a winning start to their campaign, but it was no routine dismissal of the championship's traditional whipping boys.
Italy blitzed Ireland up front for most of the first half and although the visitors' pack had found their feet by the interval, the Azzurri forwards possessed an edge which was lacking from their opponents.
Peter Stringer's 50th-minute try swung the balance in the green shirts' favour and when Denis Hickie crossed in injury time, Italian hopes of claiming another famous scalp were extinguished.
But John Kirwan's men could take enormous credit from a performance which confirms they have developed into worthy RBS 6 Nations competitors and Foley admits in previous seasons Ireland would have lost the match.
"You always want to play the best possible game when you're in the Test arena but at times you have to scrap it out. We fought until the end," said the veteran Munster back row.
"That was the sort of game we would not have won a few years ago. I've been in two Ireland sides which have lost to the Italians in the past - in 1995 and 1997 - and this Italy team is much better than either of those two."
He added: "They were physical - we knew it would be like that going into the game. The first 20 minutes were an onslaught and it was very hard to get into the match.
"At half-time (coach) Eddie O'Sullivan told us to be patient, to try to build phases and pick them off with mis-matches.
"We adapted well and picked up two nice tries in the second half. It was important we fronted up and we did that.''
Peter O'Mahony was named man of the match against England last month
21 April 2017, 7:22pm
Peter O'Mahony's performance in the RBS 6 Nations finale for Ireland against England was crucial to his selection for the British & Irish Lions on Wednesday, Ireland and Lions defence coach Andy Farrell has revealed.