Rome - A Ronan O'Gara drop goal two minutes from time denied Italy a first ever Six Nations victory over Ireland, as the 2009 Grand Slam winners sneaked away with a 13-11 victory at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday.
Italy looked to have snatched a famous victory five minutes from time, as Luke McLean touched over to give the hosts a one-point lead with Ireland down to 14 men following Denis Leamy's sin-binning.
However, Ireland responded immediately, with substitute O'Gara kicking a late drop which broke Italian hearts and ended any premature celebrations.
Italy took an early lead on seven minutes as Thomas O'Leary was penalised for holding on the floor, and Mirco Bergamasco kicked the penalty.
The game settled into a midfield stalemate until 20 minutes when Ireland started knocking on the door.
A good break that went wide left then saw Gordon D'Arcy cutting inside and offloading to Luke Fitzgerald, but Alberto Sgarbi got back to haul him down 10 yards out.
Ireland enjoyed more success down the left when a miss-pass took Andrea Masi out of the game, and saw Brian O'Driscoll almost get away.
The pressure finally told when Italy were penalised for handling in the ruck, and Jonathan Sexton kicked three points.
Bergamasco pulled a penalty from 40 yards wide while fly-half Kris Burton also missed a drop goal attempt for the hosts.
But the hosts went in front again on the stroke of half-time as Bergamasco landed a penalty from out on the right flank, after O'Leary was punished for holding onto the man after a tackle.
Italy's good humour didn't last long after the restart, though, as Ireland stretched them right and then left from a scrum deep inside Italian territory, with O'Driscoll bursting between props Martin Castrogiovanni and Salvatore Perugini to score.
Sexton kicked the extras.
Ireland should have had a second try on 57 minutes as they worked an overlap on the right in Italy's 22, but O'Driscoll horribly overplayed his pass to Fergus McFadden.
Ten minutes from time Italy, got the crowd going as they won a penalty 10 yards from the Ireland line and tried to heave their way over, but after eventually getting the ball out, Andrea Lo Cicero spilled a poor pass from Sergio Parisse and the chance was gone.
When Leamy was sin-binned for a trip, however, Italy sensed history in the making.
The Azzurri kicked a penalty to the corner, and then got the drive on with the forwards before spreading the play left, and after a miss pass and a half break from Gonzalo Garcia, McLean burst over in the corner five minutes from time.
Bergamasco missed the conversion, but Italy led 11-10.
However, from the kick-off, Ireland went straight up the other end and O'Gara kicked over a drop goal to give back the lead to the visitors.
Italy's last roll of the dice was a long range drop goal attempt from Luciano Orquera with the clock reaching 80 minuters, but it had neither the distance nor the direction needed.