Ireland beat reigning RBS 6 Nations champions Wales in a pulsating six-try encounter as they announced their title credentials.
First-half tries by Six Nations debutante wing Simon Zebo and prop Cian Healy put daylight between the teams before imperious centre Brian O’Driscoll touched down after the break.
Wales, 30-3 down and facing humiliation, stirred through tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell during a second period in which Ireland saw Rory Best and Conor Murray sin-binned.
The visitors struck the opening blow after 11 minutes courtesy of O’Driscoll. His ability to freeze the opposition defence surfaced in all its glory, with three Welsh defenders transfixed as he teased them before delivering a scoring pass to Zebo, with Sexton’s conversion making it 7-0.
Wales, despite some resilient defensive work from full-back Halfpenny, could not get out of their own half. A Sexton penalty extended the lead, and when Wales did occasionally move into Irish territory their efforts were undone by a handling error or by choosing the wrong option.
And Ireland did not require a second invitation to make Wales pay, cutting them open again midway through a hopelessly one-sided affair. Best charged down Wales fly-half Dan Biggar’s kick, and after skipper Jamie Heaslip linked slickly in midfield, Zebo’s stunning flick off the back of his shin to hand enabled the move to continue, with Healy eventually burrowing over.
Sexton converted and then added another penalty, giving Ireland a 20-point advantage after 29 minutes.
Halfpenny belatedly opened Wales’ account with a penalty, but Sexton cancelled that out before the break as Ireland trooped off 23-3 ahead.
Wales threw caution to the wind after the break but O’Driscoll crossed from close range for his team’s third try.
Sexton added the extras, and there was only a hint of consolation for Wales when Cuthbert scored his sixth Test try eight minutes into the second period, with Halfpenny’s conversion making it 30-10.
Wales, battered away at Ireland’s line through a concerted passage of play that ended with Halfpenny touching down wide out after Best was yellow-carded.
Wales were a different team from the opening period as they put Ireland under the cosh. When Mitchell muscled his way over during the final knockings there remained hope that Wales could somehow still complete a miracle comeback, but it was not to be.