Ireland inflict more misery on Wales
Brian O'Driscoll's return inspired Ireland to a Six Nations victory over holders Wales on Saturday, the Irish hanging on to win 30-22 after a second-half onslaught from last season's grand slam winners came up short.
The former captain, who missed the November internationals and has hardly played since the 2011 World Cup because of injury, created one try and scored another as the Irish threatened to run riot when they took a 30-3 lead to howls of derision at the Millennium Stadium.
Wales, who since winning a third grand slam in eight tournaments last March have now lost eight matches in a row, came to life in the second half.
Ireland buckled, their penalty count grew, and referee Romain Poite's patience wore thin as he brandished two yellow cards at the men in green.
An energised Wales pierced hole after hole, ran in three tries of their own, and only valiant defence and spurned chances prevented a complete collapse.
It was a relieved Ireland who greeted the final whistle, with captain Jamie Heaslip, who has taken the armband from O'Driscoll, admitting "there was nothing left in the tank".
O'Driscoll was named man of the match in a performance that suggested another British & Irish Lions tour later this year is within reach.
Warren Gatland, who has put his duties as Wales coach on hold while he concentrates on putting a Lions squad together to take to Australia, could not have failed to have been impressed as he watched from the stands.
"We started really well, we came out of the blocks in the first half and played really well," O'Driscoll, Ireland's all-time leading try scorer with 46 from 121 test starts, told BBC television.
"In fairness they were not going to be flat for the whole game, and they really put it to us in the second half. They built momentum, and if you can build it it's hard to stop it."
Wales assistant coach Shaun Edwards called the 34-year-old "the difference between the two sides", whileIreland coach Declan Kidney refused to speculate on whether O'Driscoll was playing in his final Six Nations. The centre has said it could be.
"Brian will make up his own mind. That's the man he is," Kidney told reporters.
"As long as he is enjoying it...I wouldn't like to sway him one way or another. We'd like to have him around forever. If you look at his performance today, it's not an easy thing to pull out.
"Huge credit to him given the amount of game time he's had under his belt, to come out and give such an international-class performance as he did today. It's just a privilege to be working with him."
Kidney could afford a wry smile after Ireland ended a run of three defeats against the Welsh, including the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal.
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Victory owed much to a 20-point salvo from Ireland in the opening 28 minutes that brought converted tries for wing Simon Zebo and prop Cian Healy.
The danger that O'Driscoll poses with ball in hand, a magnet for rattled defenders, allowed Zebo the space to dart over for the opening try and Healy followed up as Ireland took their chances with precision.
The game appeared all but over when O'Driscoll picked up from the base of a ruck and dived over from half a metre out.
Ireland led 30-3 four minutes into the second half but the threat of further humiliation sparked an unlikely revival.
Boosted by the strong running of No 8 Toby Faletau and wing George North, the Welsh hit back with tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and replacement Craig Mitchell.
The Millennium was rocking but time ran out.
As interim coach Rob Howley lamented, it was Wales' poor start that led to their downfall.
"Frustrating and disappointed," he said.
"We came second best by a long way in the first 20 minutes. Ireland's kicking game and accuracy in the contact area allowed them field position. They took their opportunities."
Captain Sam Warburton added: "It is tough having lost eight games on the bounce but there were certain aspects of the game in which we did extremely well and could have had more points.
"The massive emphasis for next week will be to start well."
Wales, who have slipped to nine in the world rankings, face France in Paris next Saturday. Ireland host England in Dublin a day later.