Reigning champions Ireland turned on the style to get their first win of the RBS Six Nations campaign with a demolition job on an Italian side who were out of their depth at the Aviva Stadium.
Joe Schmidt’s hopes of finishing their disappointing championship on a high remain on course and he will be looking for a similar display when they entertain Scotland next weekend.
This was a much improved performance from Ireland and they took Italy apart when they opened up the game, running in nine tries in an impressive display.
It is Ireland’s second biggest victory over Italy in the Six Nations and for long periods in the second-half it looked like they would surpass the 60-13 victory from 2000.
Ireland, having scored just two tries in their three games so far in this year’s Six Nations, had four on the board by half-time and were well on their way to a first win of the campaign when they led 25-3.
Italy, themselves without a win in the championship, were on the back foot from the outset as Joe Schmidt’s men took control of proceedings from the start.
Ireland were patient in wearing down their opponents but they got a good break after nine minutes when Leonardo Sarto fail to deal with a Jonathan Sexton kick.
The home side punished the error with Jared Payne making the initial metres before Andrew Trimble supplied the finish to score his 17th try in 62 appearances.
Sexton, with a 100% kicking success rate prior to this missed his first effort in ten when he was unable to convert from the left.
The porous Italian defence was again cut open after 15 minutes when Jack McGrath made it to the line to score his second ever Irish try, having grabbed the first two seasons ago against Italy.
The try was Ireland’s 200th in Six Nations history and Sexton’s conversion made it 12-0.
Fergus McFadden came off the bench for the first of two blood replacements, initially for Trimble and later in the half for Robbie Henshaw.
Debutant Edoardo Padovani crowned his first appearance with a close range penalty after 23 minutes, but the reprieve was short-lived for the visitors.
Sexton, constantly targeted for hits, landed a penalty from 35 metres after 27 minutes which took Ireland’s Six Nations tally past the 2,000 mark.
CJ Stander has settled into international with the same seamless effort which announced his arrival in Munster over three years ago from South Africa and he marked his fourth appearance in an Irish shirt with his first try when he had the strength to pump his legs through two tacklers to score.
But the best try of the game, and one of the contenders for score of the championship, came just before the break with a wonderful team try.
The move started back on the Irish 22 with Sexton, Keith Earls and Jared Payne involved but it was the impact of Simon Zebo which was decisive.
Sexton was again involved along with Trimble before McFadden fed Jamie Heaslip and he made it to the line to score his 11th try in 84 appearances and ensure the crowd were on their feet in appreciation when Australian referee Angus Gardner blew for the interval in his first Six Nations games.
Italy, who lost lock forwards George Biagi and Marco Fuser to injury in the opening half, needed a solid start to the second-half to prevent a drubbing, but Ireland were quick to turn the screw.
Payne intercepted a wild pass from Padovani outside the Italian 22 to race through and score just three minutes after the restart.
Ireland did not relent after that when it was clear that all that needed to be decided was the margin of victory and Heaslip grabbed his second try of the contest after 49 minutes.
And on a day of celebration replacement hooker Sean Cronin marked his 50th appearance by racing through to score Ireland’s seventh try after 54 minutes.
David Odiete pulled back a try for Italy but it was cancelled at the other end when Ian Madigan dashed over and after Leonardo Sarto grabbed a second Italian try, Schmidt’s men finished in style when McFadden scored his tenth try in 31 appearances when he came on for the third time in the game.
Replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion came on for his Six Nations debut, while prop Finlay Bealham was introduced for his Irish debut.
And his arrival meant that Connacht had five players on the field for the first time in the professional era on a day when Ireland showed what they are capable of, albeit way too late to mount a defence of their Six Nations crown.
But Schmidt will want them to finish on a high against Scotland next weekend before regrouping for their three-match tour to South Africa in the summer where Ireland have never won a test match.
Scorers: Ireland: J Heaslip (2), A Trimble, J McGrath, CJ Stander, J Payne, S Cronin, J Payne, F McFadden tries; J Sexton 3 cons, pen, Madigan 2 cons.
Italy: D Odiete, L Sarto tries, E Padovani pen, K Haimona con
Ireland: S Zebo; A Trimble, J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
Replacements: F McFadden for Trimble (21-29 mins), McFadden for Henshaw (37-40), S Cronin for Best (49 mins), I Madigan for Sexton (49 mins), N White for Ross (55 mins), U Dillane for Toner (55 mins), K Marmion for Murray (59 mins), R Ruddock for Stander (62 mins), F Bealham for McGrath (65 mins), McFadden for Payne (71 mins).
Italy: D Odiete; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, G Garcia, M Bellini; E Padovani, G Palazanni; A Lovotti, D Giazzon, L Cittadini; G Biagi, M Fuser; F Minto, A Zanni, S Parisse.
Replacements: Q Geldenhuys for Fuser (27 mins), B Steyn for Biagi (36 mins), O Fabiani for Giazzon (55 mins), D Chistolini for Cittadini (55 mins), K Haimona for Garcia (55 mins), L McLean for Padovani (59 mins), A Lucchese for Lovotti (61 mins), M Zanusso for Lovotti (71 mins).