Andy Farrell praised his Ireland players for overcoming adversity after putting Wales to the Six Nations sword in Cardiff.
Ireland eased to a 34-10 victory at the Principality Stadium – their first Six Nations win on Welsh soil since 2013 – with tries from Caelan Doris, James Ryan, James Lowe and Josh van der Flier securing a bonus-point win for the world’s number-one ranked team.
It came after scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park had been ruled out with a hamstring injury just a few hours before kick-off, with the veteran Conor Murray drafted in to win his 101st cap.
“It showed the strength of the group coming through that,” head coach Farrell said of the late change to his starting XV.
“Three or four of them had not played any rugby for a long time, and we’ve had two or three injuries this week as well.
“What happened this morning could have unsettled any side, but there are no excuses.
“We prepare as a group of 37 or 38 and we expect to perform. We trust and back the squad to put in a performance and this reiterates that.”
Ireland were almost out of sight at half-time having scored three tries and opened up a commanding 27-3 lead.
Wales were vastly improved in the second period with Liam Williams crossing, but the full-back’s yellow card for a high tackle on Johnny Sexton ended any hopes of a comeback.
Farrell said: “I’m delighted to get off to a good start because as we all know this is a really difficult place to start the campaign. Our history says exactly that.
“But our preparation has been top drawer and we got what we deserved.
“At the same time there’s plenty to do, to fix and get better. It’s not a bad place to be.”
Ireland welcome defending champions France to Dublin in their second championship fixture next Saturday.
Skipper Sexton said: “It’s only a start, but if you come away with a bad result the Triple Crown and Grand Slam has gone.
“It’s all down to next week. That’s the beauty of the competition, all five games are tough – and none tougher than next week; the team that hasn’t been beaten for a year.”
Warren Gatland was back at the Wales helm after Wayne Pivac’s three-year reign came to an end in December.
Gatland oversaw a golden era for Wales between 2008 and 2019, but this was a sobering lesson to how far the national team has fallen in his absence.
“I think the slow start was brought on ourselves by the fact that we conceded some penalties which gave them the momentum to get into our 22,” said Gatland, who confirmed Wales will be without record caps holder Alun Wyn Jones in Scotland next week after the second-row forward failed a head injury assessment.
“We didn’t have a good enough exit to start the game and we were 14 points down and under the pump.
“But I thought the second half was a huge improvement. At the end of the game I said in my head that I actually wasn’t that disappointed with our performance.
“I think there’s a huge amount of upside in us and in the past we’ve been able to work hard and fix things.”
Asked if he had the time to do so before travelling to Murrayfield, Gatland said: “I think so. We’ll continue to work on that and ask the players to have a look at themselves and be pretty hard.
“There were definitely some good moments. We made some nice breaks and had some really good momentum in the 22, but we just didn’t come away with those points.”