But it took late tries from Ian Henderson and full-back Shane Leyden to be sure of the win.
Alex Morsellino stunned the home side with a try in the 77th minute as Italy looked like upsetting Irish hopes. But Henderson and Leyden finished off flowing moves in either corner to seal Ireland’s third win of the Six Nations campaign.
It was the accuracy of Paddy Jackson that proved key in this Irish win. He landed five penalties and a conversion to wipe away two average days from the tee.
Fly-half Riccardo Della Rossa got the visitors off the mark with a kick from under the posts after Ireland were penalised for offside. But the Italian lead didn’t last too long as 12 minutes in Jackson kicked Ireland level.
A quick-tap penalty from Niall Scannell under the posts brought groans from the Irish supporters, but in the next phase the Italians infringed again and Rudkin sent Italian tight-head Antonio Brandolini to the bin.
Jackson kicked the penalty to give Ireland a 6-3 lead and just after the half-hour mark he landed his third kick. On the verge of half-time the Irish were given another chance to take control when second-row Matteo Ferro became the second Azurri to be yellow carded. Jackson kicked the penalty to give Ireland a 12-3 half-time lead.
Italy were dealt a severe blow just after the break when Della Rossa was stretchered off after a clash of heads with Chris Farrell.
Just before the hour-mark Jackson split the posts from the left to increase Ireland’s advantage to 15-3.
And just as Ireland looked to run out the clock the Italians stunned the home crowd when winger Alex Morsellino touched down three minutes from time. Michael Odiete missed the conversion.
However, when it mattered most, Ireland turned on the style. A well-oiled move involving Jackson, Layden and Aaron Conneely was finished superbly by lock Henderson as Layden’s late touchdown sealed the win.
Scorers for Ireland: Tries: I Henderson, S Leyden, Cons: P Jackson. Pens: P Jackson (5)
Italy: Tries: A Morsellino, Pens: R Della Rossa
IRELAND U20: S Layden (Buccaneers/Connacht); C Finn (Buccaneers/Connacht), C Farrell (Dungannon/Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians/Munster), F Horan (Lansdowne/Leinster); P Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster), K Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht); K McCall (Ballynahinch/Ulster), N Scannell (Dolphin/Munster), P Reilly (Lansdowne/Leinster); T Beirne (Lansdowne/Leinster), I Henderson (Queen’s University/Ulster); J Coghlan (UCD/Leinster), C Gilsenan (UCD/Leinster), J Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Replacements: J Rael (Garryowen/Munster) for Scannell, 56; A Conneely (Corinthians/Connacht) for Coghlan, 59; L McGrath (UCD/Leinster) for Marmion, 68; C Marsh (Dublin University/Leinster for Finn, 71; D Qualter (Buccaneers/Connacht) for Conan, 71; D Merrey (Clontarf/Leinster) for Reilly, 80; J Cawley (Old Belvedere/Leinster) for McCall, 80; S Olding (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) for Jackson, 80.
ITALY U20: D Odiete; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, A Bettin, A Morsellino; R Della Rossa, G Calabrese; S Drissi, G Maistri, A Brandolini; A Luca Mammana, M Ferro; V Marazzi, F Conforti, A Zdrilich.
Replacements: L Scarsini for Drissi, 34; J Apperley for Della Rossa, 46; de Marchi for Marazzi, 59; P Ceccarelli for Brandolini, 65; R Riccioli for Mammana, 71; A E Padovani for Bettin, 78; L Conti for Maistri, 80; F Guarducci for Odiete, 80.
Referee: Cammy Rudkin (Scotland).