Cometh the hour, cometh the Galway girl.
eibhinn Parsons’ stunning individual display kept her hopes of a maiden World Cup voyage alive, a trademark try and a spectacular scything run to create another on the hour mark dragging fitful Ireland over the line against Italy.
It is one thing to complement a World Cup not involving the Irish; but denying the global stage to the Ballinasloe bomber would be a travesty. A world class competition demands the presence of a world class player.
Adam Griggs’ side needed to win in Parma to avoid elimination from this round-robin tournament and, although their performance was well below average, similar Italian incompetence and Parsons’ remarkable efforts rescued his side.
Defeating Scotland next weekend with a bonus point, after denying the Italians one today, could still bank an automatic World Cup slot for the Irish without recourse to a repechage.
The wild full-time celebrations reflected the importance of this victory; they must now complete the job against the Scots next week when both a performance and a result would be welcome.
This was a victory founded upon defence; Ireland wasted many opportunities and their set-piece work was again abysmal but Italy’s off-loading game never prospered.
Parsons’ 28th minute try calmed Irish nerves but the Italians were ahead in the 51st minute when Beatrice Rigoni score a stunning try which was converted for 7-5.
But the Italians couldn’t cope with Parsons’s awesome strength and running ability as she beat seven defenders en route to creating the clinching try from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe in the 61st minute, Stacey Flood’s conversion adding to an earlier penalty.
Italy, as they had done all day, huffed and puffed but Ireland, even as the errors multiplied, were out of reach.
Eve Higgins’ return had been the only change made to the backline, an admission from the management that the decision to parachute Sevens’ player Lucy Mulhall in for a debut had mis-fired, and she dropped out of the matchday 23.
Ireland also shuffled their under-performing pack with three changes, bringing in Laura Feely for veteran Lindsay Peat at loose-head prop to join Cliodhna Moloney and Linda Djougang in the front row.
Sam Monaghan, who also debuted last week before exiting prematurely after illegally collapsing a maul, earned a first test start, with Nichola Fryday in the second row as Aoife McDermott was also excised from the squad.
Edel McMahon replaced the benched Brittany Hogan at openside in a re-modelled back-row, meaning captain Ciara Griffin reverted to number eight while Dorothy Wall switched to six.
The return of Clare Molloy from exile was arguably the most significant selection call of them all, an admission of culpability from the management as well as a reflection of the dire straits now immersing the Irish.
With Italy intent on running the ball from deep, operating close to the ruck off centurion Sara Barratin’s dominant direction, Ireland were able to defend with relative ease in their opponent’s territory.
A couple of forced turnovers on the floor offered initial encouragement to their defence; a scrum penalty concession re-awakened concerns about their set-piece implosion against Spain last Monday with Feely visibly struggling.
A rumbling lineout maul that prompted an Italian illegal collapse was a far better portent; at least it would have been had not the Irish coughed up the five-metre throw.
The Italians gleefully ran the ball from their try-line to the 10-metre whitewash; the home side were clearly not going to die wondering as they sought to confirm their World Cup slot.
Ireland’s defence held solid – they seemed to slow ruck ball at will – as this did their turf as the Italian eschewed any thought of kicking for territory.
When Ireland did, after a rare functioning attacking scrum on the Italian 10-metre line, it was an odd call and Stacey Flood’s punt went dead; almost predictably, the Italians earned a penalty and Feely’s action was attracting the attention of ref Hollie Davidson.
Captain Ciara Griffin and Moloney were dominant on the floor, stemming the Italian tide as it briefly washed into the Irish 22.
The match had crept into the second quarter before Beibhinn Parsons got her first touch of the ball and she immediately defeated two defenders before the move faltered.
And then a stunning transfer east-west, including a deft wrap-around in midfield off Flood, signalled growing Irish comfort and Italian unease.
Flood’s 25th minute penalty effort arrived as a direct result but from no distance, her effort caromed off the post, a reminder of Ireland’s perennial out-half difficulties.
Ireland were, though, now dominant and asking defensive questions, Parsons also becoming more prominent and, almost inevitably, the emerging star would break the deadlock.
After a rumbling maul was stemmed just short of the line, the halves shifted the ball economically to the wing where, oddly, scrum-half Sara Barrattini was marking the Galwegian; none of her 100 caps prepared her for this match-up.
Flood missed the conversion and Parsons soon put her side under pressure, conceding a penalty for a deliberate knock-on while tackling Maria Magatti.
Now Italy went to their maul, Griffin effected one try-saving tackle on rumbling prop Gaia Maris as the Italians launched their first sustained spell of pressure close to the line and close to half-time.
These were pivotal moments and the outcome would prove decisive to both sides’ mood.
That Ireland could shove the next maul into touch buoyed theirs; even more so when Flood’s audacious dummy and searing run from near her own line fully lifted the siege before the teams took their half-time breather.
Ireland started the second-half like a train, Clermont-bound Linda Djougang bouncing beyond befuddled blue-clad defenders before being hauled down five metres short.
Yet again, Ireland struggled to be clinical and, even when finally winning a scrum, handling errors undid their approach work.
They were given every chance as the Italians bafflingly refused to exit their 22 with the boot as they persisted with a running game Ireland were competently suffocating.
Just as they were assuming some control, Eimear Considine was binned for a high shot on Michela Sillari in the 47th minute; more sterling work on the floor, now by Eve Higgins, yet again stymied the Italians.
But they couldn’t hold a stunning 51st minute counter-attack try, a superb score out of kilter in a turgid affair.
It stemmed from Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe’s aimless punt and a pallid chase; Barratin ran unmolested for about 40 metres before linking up with her captain Manuela Furlan.
She found Beatrice Rogoni steaming up on her outside and she burned the despairing cover, and a flailing tackle attempt by Griffin, to claim the try and, thanks to a stunning conversion from Michela Signoli, the lead.
However, Rogoni was binned moments later for a deliberate knock-on as Ireland renewed their efforts, just as Considine returned from her naughty step.
Astonishingly, or perhaps not, Ireland lost another five-metre throw with the line at their mercy.
They did win a penalty which Flood almost tapped; another reminder of last Monday’s collective brain freezes.
Mercifully, Griffin encouraged her to take a shot and, unlike the first-half, she made no mistake and Ireland regained the lead, 18-7, as the hour mark approached.
Molloy arrived on as Ireland sought to calmly negotiate the endgame.
And then, from her left wing post, Parsons exploded into life with a stunning, slaloming run from inside her own half, beating six defenders and creating enough space on the other flank for a huge over-lap that even a fitful Ireland couldn’t mess up.
Murphy Crowe atoned for her earlier slip by completing a try but Parsons was truly its author; Flood’s extras meant Ireland could finally breathe a little in the stifling heat, 15-7 ahead with 18 minutes left.
Italy: V Ostuni Minuzzi (A Muzzi 73); M Furlan capt, M Sillari, B Rigoni, M Magatti; V Madia, S Barattin (S Stefan 77); G Maris, M Bettoni (V Vecchini 66), L Gai, V Fedrighi, G Duca, I Arrighetti, F Sgorbini (I Locatelli 77), E Giordano.
Ireland: E Considine; A-L Murphy Crowe, E Higgins, S Naoupu, B Parsons; S Flood (E Breen 78), K Dane (E Dane 80); L Feely (L Peat 53), C Moloney, L Djougang, N Fryday, S Monaghan, D Wall, E McMahon (C Molloy 58), C Griffin (C) (B Hogan 73).
Replacements: N Jones, L Peat, L Lyons, B Hogan, C Molloy, E Lane, E Breen, L Delany
Ref: H Davidson (Scotland)