Ireland survived a second-half comeback to kick-off their Six Nations campaign with a 30-22 victory Saturday and consign Wales to an eighth successive defeat.
Declan Kidney’s men raced into 30-3 lead thanks to tries from Simon Zebo, Cian Healy and Brian O’Driscoll.
The game appeared dead and buried but Wales fought back with touchdowns of their own from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell.
However, it was not enough as Ireland hung on, and Kidney’s men can now look forward to welcoming England to Dublin next week, while wounded Wales face a daunting trip to France.
England started their Six Nations campaign with a 38-18 Calcutta Cup win as Scotland’s 30-year wait for a Twickenham triumph was extended yet again.
“The first game is a must-win otherwise you are chasing your tail for the rest of the Championship. We started really well today,” said Ireland’s O’Driscoll.
Wales interim coach Rob Howley admitted his team paid a heavy price for their first half problems when they slipped 23-3 down.
“We showed great character and resilience in the second half to come back into it, but we probably left three or four tries out there as well,” he said.
“To score three tries and be on the losing side, you look back and that first 20 minutes was key.”
Wales made a bright start at the Millennium Stadium but Ireland quickly took control of the encounter.
They launched a sustained period of pressure and they raced into the lead thanks to a bit of magic from veteran centre O’Driscoll.
After Rob Kearney fixed the Welsh defence with a clever dummy run, the Leinster legend mesmerised them to send Zebo into the corner.
Sexton slotted the conversion and Ireland continued to exert their dominance on the encounter, threatening the Welsh whitewash on several occasions.
Ireland settled for a Sexton penalty on 21 minutes, as Andrew Coombs came in from the side and was fortunate to escape a yellow card.
Within a matter of minutes the visitors extended their lead further when Dan Biggar, making his first appearance in the Six Nations, saw his clearance charged down by Rory Best, who re-gathered. Best found Heaslip in support and the ball was flung to Zebo, who demonstrated sublime footballing ability to flick it into his hands.
The Munster wing was held by Halfpenny but Peter O’Mahony and Craig Gilroy maintained the pressure and Healy drove over.
Sexton added the extras and slotted a second penalty to stretch Ireland’s lead to 20 points before Halfpenny hit back with Wales’ first points.
The hosts rallied in the closing stages of the half but they were unable to turn pressure into points and they were punished for their inaccuracy with a Sexton penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Ireland took a giant stride towards victory within minutes of the restart, as they hammered at Wales’ line and O’Driscoll dived through a gap for a crucial try.
Sexton again added the extras but the score sparked Wales into life and they launched a comeback as Cuthbert hit an inside line off Biggar to race under the sticks.
Halfpenny converted and Wales continued to pile the pressure on the visitors. They camped themselves in Irish territory and Ireland fought with their lives to hang on, with Rory Best shown yellow for killing the ball.
Howley’s men quickly capitalised on their numerical advantage with Jon Davies and Roberts combining with Halfpenny on the wing. The gutsy full-back had it all to do but he finished superbly to give his side a glimmer of hope.
Wales continued to dominate both territory and possession but they were unable to break Ireland’s fiercely committed defence.
Toby Faletau came close after bursting through the Irish but he was held agonisingly short and Conor Murray was shown yellow for killing the ball.
But Howley’s men eventually earned their breakthrough thanks to the help of the video ref, who gave a try when Craig Mitchell dived over just minutes after coming off the bench.
Halfpenny converted but Wales were still left requiring eight points from the final five minutes.
They threw everything at Ireland in a frenetic closing period but it was not enough as Ireland hung on.
Scotland’s first match under Australian interim coach Scott Johnson, assisted by ex-England forward Dean Ryan, saw them score the first try of the 131st meeting between rugby’s oldest international rivals as New Zealand-born wing Sean Maitland crossed on his Test debut.
But England, fresh from their record-breaking 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand last time out, hit back through Chris Ashton’s 17th try in 30 Tests.
And with fly-half Owen Farrell landing five out of five goalkicks in the opening period, England led 19-11 at half-time.
That became 24-11 when centre Billy Twelvetress marked his Test debut with a try shortly after the break and lock Geoff Parling increased England’s lead with his first international try.
Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg, in a move started in front of his own line, scored a fine try 10 minutes from time but England replacement scrum-half Danny Care rounded off the try-count on the stroke of full-time.