DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND // Brian O'Driscoll is relishing a chance to take on Wales for a place in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals after a win over Italy secured their place in the last eight as Pool C winners.
The Irish stuttered to a 9-6 lead in the first half against Italy but were much improved after the break as they secured a 36-6 win.
Next up is a quarter-final against Wales, who had earlier beaten Fiji 66-0, with a semi-final against the winners of the France-England tie at stake.
"It's going to be another great challenge," O'Driscoll, the captain, told ITV. "It's been very close in recent years and it'll be the team that turns up on the day that goes into the semi-finals."
Defeat to Italy would have eliminated the Irish, he added: "We're delighted with the win.
"We knew we needed it and I'm glad we were able to deliver in the second half aided by what has been the best crowd we've played in front of so far."
O'Driscoll rounded off a flowing backline move seven minutes after halftime for a converted try that put Ireland 19-6 ahead and Keith Earls touched down twice in the corner as Italy's hopes of a first quarter-final evaporated.
Ronan O'Gara experienced none of the kicking problems that afflicted players in the other three pool matches under the roof of Dunedin's Otago Stadium, succeeding with six of his seven place kicks at goal and hitting the post with the other.
Otago Stadium was awash with green as the overwhelming majority of the 28,027 fans inside celebrated Ireland securing top spot in Pool C ahead of Tri-Nations champion Australia and a quarter-final against northern hemisphere rival Wales in Wellington on Saturday.
Italy, which needed to win well to advance, only gets to fly home.
Nick Mallett, the Italy coach, spoke before the game of how his side had more to offer than just forward power, but his players showed little else and their passion spilt over at times into foul play.
Leonardo Ghiraldini was fortunate that Jonathan Kaplan, the referee, missed an apparent eye gouge on the prop Cian Healy and Mauro Bergamasco was involved in a handful of confrontations before swinging a punch at Healy, forcing Kaplan to reverse a penalty that would have given Italy a shot at goal to level the scores going into the interval.
In the second half, O'Gara and Gordon D'Arcy made good ground following a line-out and Tommy Bowe raced through before slipping an inside pass to O'Driscoll, who touched down just to the left of the posts for his 45th international try.
Earls then collected a pass from Jamie Heaslip to turn and go over in the left corner, O'Gara drilling the conversion from just inside the touchline to put Ireland three scores clear at 26-6 with more than 25 minutes remaining.
Bowe looked to have scored a late breakaway try after hacking the ball downfield past the tiring Italian defence but he got neither the score nor a penalty try despite having been hauled back while attempting to touch down.
It didn't matter. Andrew Trimble broke from a 22-drop-out and drew his man in before popping a gentle pass into the arms of the onrushing Earls, who raced in again.
With O'Gara having been withdrawn to an ovation for his 16-point haul, Jonathan Sexton added a sideline conversion to his earlier penalty to complete the scoring with the last kick of the match.