Match Report by Patrick Boyland:
Italy continued their unbeaten start to this year’s Women’s Six Nations by edging Ireland 29-27 in a tight encounter in Parma for their first ever win over the Irish in the Championship.
Flanker Giada Franco scored two tries, including the decisive score, as both sides secured attacking bonus points in an engrossing, topsy-turvy encounter.
Ireland winger Eimear Considine also dotted down for a double to keep her side in contention until the death, but Michela Sillari’s accuracy with the boot proved to be decisive at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
After being held to a home draw by Wales in Round Two, Italy started like a side with a point to prove, with Sillari’s early penalty swiftly followed by Aura Muzzo’s brilliant try.
Full-back Manuela Furlan cut through the visitors’ defence, finding the dangerous Franco who superbly offloaded to Muzzo to finish.
In what was to become a regular theme of a frantic game, though, Ireland hit back almost immediately through Considine, before Italy extended their lead through Franco’s first try of the night.
Considine responded once more, intercepting an errant pass to race clear, with fly-half Nicole Fowley nailing the conversion and a further penalty to bring the Irish within two points.
A remarkable first-half turnaround was complete when prolific flanker Anna Caplice bundled over following a break from Considine, but Ireland’s euphoria was to be shortlived – Sofia Stefan crossing in the corner to send the two sides in level at 22-22 the interval.
The second period was an altogether less productive affair in terms of points scoring, with both Italy and Ireland reluctant to open proceedings up too much for fear of being caught with the sucker punch.
Yet Franco, a talismanic figure throughout, got her second of the evening on 50 minutes following wonderful wing play from Muzzo, and Sillari added the extras from the tee to extend the lead to seven.
Ireland ensured a nervy final 15 minutes when substitute Laura Sheehan collected a precise cross-field kick from Fowley to reduce the deficit to just two points again.
Adam Griggs’ team pushed in search of a comeback win, but a resolute Italy held firm to secure the bonus-point win necessary to take them back to the top of the standings ahead of Sunday’s action.