First half tries from Sene Naoupu and Sophie Spence laid the foundations as the Ireland Women began the defence of their RBS 6 Nations crown with a well-judged 21-3 victory over Wales.
Ireland suffered a 15-5 loss to today's opponents in an uncapped warm-up match in Caerphilly last month, but on the back of five consecutive competitive victories over Wales, Tom Tierney's charges were hoping to extend that winning run at their new Dublin 4 venue.
Owing to Sevens commitments, Ireland were missing key backs Jenny Murphy, Katie Fitzhenry, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell from last year's title-winning squad, although they were able to call on experience figureheads like captain Niamh Briggs, Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly and Heather O'Brien.
Nevertheless, Ireland did have ten Six Nations newcomers in their 23-player squad, and in the case of Elise O'Byrne White, Zoe Grattage and Ciara Griffin, this was their first experience of Test rugby.
With a vocal 3,252-strong crowd in attendance, anticipation was nevertheless high for this opening round clash, but following neat interplay inside the Irish 22, Wales hit the front thanks to a fourth minute penalty from out-half Robyn Wilkins.
The reliable Briggs quickly responded from a routine place-kick on the 22-metre line, rewarding powerhouse flanker Paula Fitzpatrick for her work at the breakdown.
Ireland proceeded to dominate the remainder of the first half, although they did find it difficult at times to secure their own lineout with hooker Grattage having some issues with a testing wind.
Indeed, Welsh prop Megan York was sin-binned for not rolling away on the quarter hour after repeated infringement. Despite the visitors winning a scrum against the head, Ireland regained possession in swift fashion.
The Welsh defence were doing their best to frustrate the girls in green, bringing down lively Irish out-half Nikki Caughey close to the posts, but Ireland's persistence finally paid off in the 25th minute. Nippy centre Sene Naoupu benefited from a midfield block by Aine Donnelly to race through from around 30 metres out for an outstanding individual try.
Briggs converted to the right of the posts for a 10-3 lead and following a edgy start to the contest, the defending champions were now beginning to control the tempo of the play. They remained on the front foot with classy openside Claire Molloy growing in influence as the half progressed.
Four minutes before half-time, a lovely move out to the left wing saw Briggs burst through a gap and combine with Mairead Coyne. Naoupu was up in support to take the pass and a final surge from Spence saw her crash over in the corner. Briggs' well-struck conversion attempt came back off the right hand post, leaving it 15-3 at the turnaround.
The Ireland skipper sent over a second successful penalty just four minutes into the second period, and although she knocked on from the restart, a handling error by replacement Gemma Rowland blew a try-scoring opportunity for the Welsh.
Briggs was fortunate to avoid the sin-bin for pulling back Wilkins after she blocked the Waterford woman's clearance kick, but the experienced back row unit of Fitzpatrick, Molloy and O'Brien again provided go-forward ball for the title holders as the rain came down.
Another period of dominant play from the Irish forwards should have yielded a try, but replacement hooker Cliodhna Moloney and Spence were both stopped short of the line and the greasy ball proved problematic as the Welsh defence held firm.
New cap Griffin made an immediate impact with a ruck steal, while Briggs' 64th-minute penalty, following an earlier miss, ensured that Ireland kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Second row Ciara Cooney was another player to show well off the bench, particularly in contact and at the breakdown, while a misfired pass spoiled a threatening run from Jackie Shiels. The replacements kept coming with Dublin Ladies footballer Lindsay Peat introduced into the front row.
Tierney and his coaches will have been frustrated with the team's poor execution in attacking situations late on, as two mauls were stopped short and Mary Healy was subsequently turned over in contact. A solid start, but plenty to do ahead of next Saturday night's crunch clash with France in Perpignan.
Referee: Leah Berard (USA)