Ireland got themselves right back in the championship picture as tries from David Wallace, Shane Horgan and Peter Stringer helped them overwhelm Wales at Lansdowne Road.
RBS 6 NATIONS: Sunday, February 26
Ireland 31 Wales 5, Lansdowne Road (Att: 49,500)
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: David Wallace, Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer; Cons: Ronan O'Gara 2; Pens: O'Gara 4
Wales: Try: Mark Jones
Although the Welsh, under the control of caretaker coach Scott Johnson, bossed the first quarter, an untimely injury to fly half Stephen Jones (dead leg) on 19 minutes saw the visitors lose their playmaker and Ireland gradually turned the screw.
The Irish forwards came into their own, Wales lost the momentum as Ronan O'Gara gained territory for the home side and notable breaks by Andrew Trimble, Horgan, who was a deserving winner of the RBS Man of the match award, and captain Brian O'Driscoll helped Ireland gain a further stranglehold.
The game had begun in nightmare fashion for Ulster tyro Trimble, who was making his first start of the 6 Nations. Minus their captain Gareth Thomas (damaged neck artery) and a number of other players due to injury, Wales were far from rudderless in the opening 20 minutes. Clermont number 10 Jones had them on the front foot and their eighth-minute try was well-merited, even if it had a touch of good fortune about it.
Centre Matthew Watkins chipped a dangerous ball over the top, arching it into Ireland's left corner, Trimble went to grab it on the bounce, but it spun away awkwardly off the winger's hand and Welsh wide man Mark Jones was in the perfect position to claim the loose ball and score. South African TV match official Marius Jonker confirmed the try and despite Jones' missed conversion, it was very much 'game on' for Wales, who seemed determined to put the whole Mike Ruddock saga behind them.
Nonetheless, almost a quarter of an hour later, Ireland had taken the lead. Possession-wise it was all Wales as Ireland were dogged by another 'slow start', but O'Gara eased his side into it with a 16th-minute penalty.
Jones was forced to hobble off three minutes later, and his replacement Gavin Henson, who had not played for Wales since last March's Grand Slam defeat of the men in green in Cardiff due to surgery and suspension, came on to a chorus of boos.
The afternoon did not bode well for the 'tangoed one' when he missed a first-up tackle on Trimble, who charged through the Welsh midfield on an inspiring 25-metre break.
Wind-backed Ireland could sense something and moments later, number 8 Denis Leamy had a try ruled out as TV match official Jonker could not pick out the grounding under a mass of bodies. Ireland's first try arrived off the resultant scrum as flanker Wallace backed himself to make the line and Jonker confirmed the score.
It was Wallace's 5th Test try and first in the 6 Nations since his effort in the Triple Crown win against Scotland nearly two years ago.
O'Gara flashed the conversion wide, but Ireland had the bit between their teeth. A brilliant attack from halfway which saw Horgan, O'Driscoll and O'Gara carry forward had hooker Jerry Flannery straining for the line at the right corner but a last-gasp tackle from full-back Lee Byrne denied the Munster man a try.
O'Gara, making up for his missed conversion, slotted a 33rd-minute penalty to send Ireland in at the break with an 11-5 lead.
Crucially, Eddie O'Sullivan's men scored first on the restart. The Irish had moved a further ten points clear within the opening eight minutes of the second half.
The second try came when ball was worked out to the right off a midfield scrum - two skip passes from O'Gara and O'Driscoll saw to that, and Horgan found enough space to ghost past Daffyd James and run over untouched for his 17th Test try. O'Gara converted and tagged on his third penalty.
Wales, so in control in the first breathless minutes, were now struggling and resorting to spoiling ball at the breakdown as the Irish pack sought out the hard yards with lock Malcolm O'Kelly - who was tigerish in defence in the first quarter - putting in a non-stop performance.
O'Gara edged Ireland 24-5 in front with a 59th-minute penalty. A long delay for a neck injury to Marcus Horan, ten minutes later, saw the game peter out. Thankfully for Horan, who was caught by a loose tackle by Welsh replacement Gethin Jenkins who was trying to clear a ruck, the damage was not serious.
Ireland regrouped well and went about nabbing a third try before referee Jonathan Kaplan's final whistle. It duly came in injury-time, but only after Leamy had been sin-binned on 77 minutes for kicking out at a player.
Scrum half Stringer, who was back to his sniping best, pounced over to score his 6th Test try - his first score in 12 internationals - and O'Gara converted to end Ireland's 42nd win in 107 championship meetings with the Dragons.
The victory - the 36th of O'Sullivan's 52-game reign - had Ireland nicely positioned in third going into the final two weekends of the 2006 tournament. Next up for the men in green is the visit of Scotland, who on Saturday had a morale-boosting 18-12 win over England, to Lansdowne Road on Saturday, March 11 (kick-off 3.30pm).
TIME LINE: 2 minutes - Wales penalty: missed by Stephen Jones; 8 mins - Wales try: Mark Jones - 0-5; conversion: missed by Stephen Jones - 0-5; 16 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 3-5; 24 mins - Ireland try: David Wallace - 8-5; conversion: missed by Ronan O'Gara - 8-5; 33 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 11-5; HALF-TIME: IRELAND 11 WALES 5; 44 mins - Ireland try: Shane Horgan - 16-5; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 18-5; 48 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 21-5; 52 mins - Ireland penalty: missed by Ronan O'Gara - 21-5; 59 mins - Ireland penalty: Ronan O'Gara - 24-5; 77 mins - Ireland yellow card: Denis Leamy (kicking a player); 80+1 mins - Ireland try: Peter Stringer - 29-5; conversion: Ronan O'Gara - 31-5; FULL-TIME: IRELAND 31 WALES 5
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy; Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Ronan O'Gara, Peter Stringer; Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O'Callaghan, Malcolm O'Kelly, Simon Easterby, David Wallace, Denis Leamy.
Replacements used: Simon Best for Horan (69 mins), Johnny O'Connor for Wallace (75), Mick O'Driscoll for Easterby (77), Rory Best for Flannery (78).
Replacements: Rory Best, Simon Best, Mick O'Driscoll, Johnny O'Connor, Eoin Reddan, David Humphreys, Girvan Dempsey.
WALES: Lee Byrne; Mark Jones, Hal Luscombe, Matthew Watkins, Dafydd James; Stephen Jones, Dwayne Peel; Duncan Jones, Rhys Thomas, Adam Jones, Ian Gough, Robert Sidoli, Colin Charvis, Martyn Williams, Michael Owen (capt).
Replacements used: Gavin Henson for S Jones (19 mins), Gethin Jenkins for D Jones (46), Gareth Delve for Charvis (56), Mefin Davies for R Thomas (61)
Replacements: Mefin Davies, Gethin Jenkins, Jonathan Thomas, Gareth Delve, Michael Phillips, Gavin Henson, Barry Davies.
Sin Bin: Leamy (Ireland) (77 mins); RBS Man of the Match: Shane Horgan
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch Judges: Chris White (England), Malcolm Changleng (Scotland); TV Match Official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)