Italy 22 Ireland 15
Ireland succumbed to a first defeat by Italy in the RBS 6 Nations that left them perilously close to finishing with the wooden spoon.
Wing Giovanbattista Venditti scored a 49th-minute try while Luciano Orquera kicked 14 points and Gonzalo Garcia a long-range penalty.
All of Ireland’s points were supplied by Paddy Jackson and now they await the outcome of France’s clash with Scotland to see if they finish bottom of the championship.
Ireland found early holes in Italy's defence with Sean O'Brien and Conor Murray forcing their way through, only for the move to break down following a poor pass from Jamie Heaslip to Donnacha Ryan.
Referee Wayne Barnes penalised the Azzurri for offside and Paddy Jackson obliged with the three points, sparking an indisciplined spell from the home side.
The impressive Murray broke free once more and prop Cian Healy continued to maraud around the pitch, but Ireland were at panic stations in the 14th minute when they were pushed back to their whitewash by a line-out catch and drive.
Only desperate defending and a penalty kept Italy at bay with Luciano Orquera on target to level the score.
A scrum-half break from Edoardo Gori, that saw him combine superbly with Sergio Parisse, was evidence that the Azzurri’s confidence was growing.
Orquera struck the left upright with a second penalty but was successful with a third, giving Italy a lead they fully deserved.
Time and again the Azzurri broke the gain-line, with Parisse typically omnipresent, and in one glorious moment a long line of blue shirts was spread before the posts only for a lazy pass from Orquera to ruin the chance.
In every match of this Six Nations Ireland have been struck by injury, and the only difference today was that it took just 25 minutes for the first casualties to depart.
Wing Keith Earls was escorted with his left shoulder in a sling and was soon followed by centre Luke Marshall, who slumped to the turf after clattering heads with Jackson.
Jackson missed a tricky penalty and Ireland’s problems deepened when O’Driscoll was sin-binned for stamping on flanker Simone Favaro.
Once more the visiting defence looked set to crack but Italy were betrayed by their composure at a crucial moment.
A monster penalty from centre Gonzalo Garcia ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over but Jackson replied on the stroke of half-time, amid a deafening chorus of boos from home fans irate at Barnes’ failure to punish Rob Kearney for shoving Luke McClean in the face.
Flanker Peter O'Mahony continued the match on the left wing as substitute Luke Fitzgerald had limped off himself, and when the usually flawless Kearney nudged a kick into touch with his head, Ireland knew fate was conspiring against them.
The one-way traffic continued to flow towards the Irish line and inevitably they cracked, wing Giovanbattista Venditti burrowing beneath a pile of green shirts to score a try that was confirmed by the TMO.
The near-touchline conversion was landed by Orquera, giving Italy a 10-point lead, but Parisse was sin-binned for tripping substitute Ian Madigan and in his absence Jackson kicked two penalties.
The final quarter began with an all-out assault on the Italian line with O’Mahony and wing Craig Gilroy making the biggest inroads.
The Azzurri infringed in front of the posts, allowing Jackson to kick his fifth penalty, but Parisse returned to the fray to steady the ship.
Gori came crashing down to the turf, landing on his head, after colliding with Devin Toner but the scrum-half eventually rose to his feet and Barnes was correct to leave Toner unpunished.
Donnacha Ryan was shown a yellow card and Orquera dispatched a long-range three points, before Murray then followed his Munster colleague into the sin bin for an off-the ball challenge.
The offence reduced Ireland to 13 men for a spell and Italy would not be denied with Orquera slotting a late penalty to complete the victory.