If there were fears that the weight of expectation would prove too much for Ireland, this was an impressive response.
Even without the disruption of losing Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy the day of the game, or of being without the enormous presence of Tadhg Furlong, a first Six Nations win away to Wales since 2013, and one which was largely wrapped up by half time, ticks almost every box you could hope for.
Andy Farrell has often spoken of embracing the challenges that rugby can throw your way, but even he may have been wondering what he'd brought upon himself when two of his match-day 23 pulled up in yesterday’s captain’s run.
It left an apprehensive mood among Irish fans who made the trip to Cardiff. They needn’t have worried.
Ireland started 2023 like a train, and from the moment Caelan Doris powered his way over for the game’s first try inside two minutes, an opening win in the Guinness Six Nations barely seemed in doubt.
By half time they were 27-3 to the good, James Ryan with a rare try and a breakaway score for James Lowe, while Johnny Sexton also kept things ticking over with a couple of penalties.
To Wales' credit, they came firing in the second half, and while Farrell may be frustrated by how his side started to soak pressure in the third quarter, their defence in their own 22 was aggressive and on point, going after the breakdown to slow the Welsh attack down.
Liam Williams crossed for a try early in the second half to give the hosts a glimmer of hope, but despite numerous 22 entries they couldn't get back within two scores to make things interesting.
In the first half Ireland's attack was fast and crisp, with Conor Murray doing well in the absence of Gibson-Park to keep pace in the attack. And while they struggled for that same zip in the second half, they eventually took advantage of their lead to wrap things up with the bonus-point score from van der Flier ten minutes from time.
While Wales showed huge fight in the second half, the gulf between the sides reemerged as the second half progressed, as Ireland unloaded an experienced bench which made a real impact.
Despite the pre-game disruption, Ireland's focus was impressive right from the first whistle, and they crossed for the game’s first try inside two minutes.
Working the ball wide in their own half, Lowe’s kick down the touchline was chased impressively by he and Garry Ringrose, who forced Liam Williams into a rushed kick, allowing Ireland a lineout in the Welsh 22.
And after Wales stopped the maul, they couldn’t do anything about the powerful carrying, with Sheehan and Ryan both getting gainline success, before Doris burst through to score just to the right of the posts, which Sexton converted to settle the visitors into an early 7-0 lead.
Ireland were carrying over the gainline at will, with hard running from Ringrose, Sheehan and Porter all forcing Wales backwards and leading to a five metre penalty just two minutes later.
And after a Sheehan tap-and-go, it was Ryan who drove his way over to score his first Irish try since September 2019, that one also against Wales.
When Sexton converted, Ireland were 14-0 ahead after just 10 minutes, and halfway to a bonus-point win, but shortly after they had Hugo Keenan to thank, as the full-back mopped up a potential breakaway Welsh try, after a loose pass was kicked downfield by Rio Dyer.
It wasn’t a wasted venture to the 22 for Wales, Dan Biggar chipping back three points a few phases later, but it was instantly cancelled out by Sexton, who landed a penalty from close range after a dominant Irish scrum.
And by the 20th minute, the Irish lead was extended to 21 points, when James Lowe picked off a Biggar pass in his own 22, and outpaced the Welsh defence to dive over and score, Sexton’s fourth successful kick making it 24-3.
Ironically, the try came about after what had been Wales’ best spell in the game, as they moved the ball from touchline to touchline, finding gainline success with strong carrying and tip-on passes between the forwards. But after trying to catch Ireland down the blindside, Lowe’s read was perfect, and even with 80 metres to cover, he would never be stopped as he sprinted clear.
Two minutes later, Lowe’s defensive intervention proved to be as valuable as his try. After Wales forced a scrum in the Irish 22, it looked like they had an overlap on Ireland, but a vital Ringrose tackle was followed up by a Lowe jackal, forcing a huge penalty and a chance to get some positive field position.
The Welsh discipline had been hopeless in the opening 30 minutes, and when they conceded two more in quick succession, it brought the count to 8-1 in Ireland’s favour, allowing Sexton an easy opportunity to push the lead out to 27-3, with his own personal tally of 12.
There was almost a dramatic swing five minutes before half time. Having come close to scoring a fourth try through Doris, Ireland were almost made to pay for their knock-on when Wales marched back up the field with successive penalties.
And while they did force their way over the line, a combination of Porter and van der Flier held Jac Morgan up and prevented the grounding, Ireland holding off the rally from the hosts to bring their 27-3 lead into the half-time break.
If there was any chance of a miracle comeback, the hosts needed a fast start in the second half, and they got it on 45 minutes when Liam Williams dived over after a well worked lineout move that saw George North targeted with a clever throw at the front.
Biggar converted to make it 27-10, with the Irish frustration compounded by Porter, whose late dive in on the try scorer allowed Wales to restart with a penalty. A crooked lineout throw came to the Irish prop’s relief.
The Principality was getting louder and louder as the home crowd finally sensed some momentum, while Ireland started to soak pressure into their own 22, and had Doris to thank for a big choke tackle which forced a turnover close to his own line.
They were living on the edge, and falling on the wrong side of the referee. When Iain Henderson took out Liam Williams off the ball they were back inside their 22 all over again, but crucially didn’t panic, eventually forcing a turnover with a strip in the tackle. Shortly after, Mack Hansen came up trumps with a great covering tackle after Rio Dyer intercepted a crossfield kick.
Having played without the ball for the majority of the third quarter, a penalty on the halfway line finally gave Ireland an attacking opportunity, but after pinning Wales down into the corner they couldn’t make it count, Porter caught isolated in the carry and Rhys Carre forcing a jackal penalty.
On 65 minutes, any lingering hopes of a Welsh comeback appeared to fade when Williams was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Sexton, the full-back making contact with the head of the Irish captain, but with a low degree of danger according to referee Karl Dickson.
It only seemed a matter of time before Ireland would pick up the bonus point, and after after the introduction of Casey brought more pace back into the Irish game, they worked their way back up the field on 70 minutes, with Henderson, Aki and Tom O'Toole all contributing in some fluid phase-play, before van der Flier dived over to score unopposed beneath the posts to secure maximum points for Ireland, and lay down a marker for the year ahead.
Wales: Liam Williams; Josh Adams, George North, Joe Hawkins, Rio Dyer; Dan Biggar, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Ken Owens (capt), Tomas Francis; Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones; Jac Morgan, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Tommy Reffell, Owen Williams, Alex Cuthbert.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Stuart McCloskey, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Finlay Bealham; Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Tom O’Toole, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Bundee Aki.
Referee: Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU)