Milan - Coach Jacques Brunel hailed the impact of New Zealand-born fly-half Kelly Haimona as a spirited Italy ended their nine-game, 12-month winless streak with a 24-13 victory over Samoa.
Samoa had beaten Italy on their past two meetings, including a 15-0 win in Apia last June when Brunel's men endured a disastrous summer tour of the South Pacific in the wake of being handed the Six Nations wooden spoon.
With the 2015 World Cup in England on the horizon, Italy have been bullied into realising it is time to up their game. It was little surprise the Azzurri took the opportunity to reinforce in key areas this summer when the opportunity arose.
Haimona and Fijian Samuela Vunisa were among three squad debutants alongside Simone Ragusi for November's Tests, but it was the Zebre fly-half who has most caught Italy's eye.
On Saturday, Haimona justified his call-up by kicking 14 points, including 11 in the second-half, as the hosts overcame a shaky start to claim their first victory since a 37-31 win over Fiji last November.
"Personally, I'm very satisfied with Haimona," said Brunel. "Two years ago he was playing in Piacenza, now he's playing with the Zebras and the national team.
"He helped us turn the game around and took a lot of individual initiatives. He set up (Sergio) Parisse's try with a textbook move that is not so easy to execute."
Brunel, who last year managed to secure the senior services of former Scotland youth player Tomasso Allan, said however that Haimona has not earned his spurs just yet.
Luciano Orquera started and finished on the bench for the Azzurri, and Brunel added: "Haimona is also important for the squad because of similarities with Orquera. It will give us more choice and possibilities in the fly-half role and that is fundamental for our future chances."
Italy's return to the competitive fray was shaky.
Samoa went in for the break 10-3 up after flanker Jack Lam touched down just after the half hour, with fly-half Tusi Pisi converting having levelled Haimona's third-minute penalty with a penalty on 26 minutes.
It looked as though the Italians might suffer their third consecutive defeat to the Samoans, who also crushed Italy 39-10 a year ago in Nelspruit.
But Italy, who last beat Samoa in Ascoli in 2009, revived memories of that 24-6 victory with a much-improved second half.
A Haimona penalty came before their first try, Joshua Furno jumping high to collect and the maul pushing Simone Favaro over.
Italy remained ahead 11-10 after Haimona missed the conversion, but a Pisi penalty minutes later put the Samoans back in front.
A great run to the try line by centre Michele Campagnaro then set Italy up for their second try.
Scrum-half Edoardo Gori dug the ball out to feed Haimona, who looked up before sending a delightful chip over the Samoan defence for Parisse to catch with both hands as he fell unchallenged over the line.
"We studied the Samoans on video," said Parisse. "And realised that after three or four phases they left space behind their defensive line, so today we tried.
"For me it was easy, thanks to the passage of Kelly, I just had to run, and place the ball."
Haimona kicked the easy conversion to give the Azzurri a 21-13 lead and then hit a late penalty.
Parisse admitted Italy's fears of another reverse had been eclipsed by their will to win.
"It's been a tough year so of course we felt a little tension, but our will to win was huge," said the Stade Francais veteran.
"We prepared well during the week and I'm really proud of how we managed the game when we went in front and also how we defended at the end when Samoa pressed us.
"This kind of attitude can only serve us well for (meeting Argentina)."