Mike Lowry scored two tries on debut as Ireland powered to a bonus-point 57-6 success over 13-man Italy as they moved up to second in the Guinness Six Nations table.
As well as Lowry, James Lowe crossed twice as Ireland kept the pressure on France at the top of the table, overtaking England, their opponents in Round 4.
The key moment of the first half came when Hame Faiva, who had replaced the injured Gianmarco Lucchesi at hooker, was shown a red card for a high tackle on opposite number Dan Sheehan.
That reduced Italy to 14 men, but as a result of uncontested scrums, they then went down to 13, with Toa Halafihi and Pierre Bruno departing as prop Ivan Nemer came on.
With two men extra, Ireland wrapped up the bonus point before half-time, and then pulled clear after the break as they ran in nine tries in all.
Andy Farrell’s side, fresh from defeat in Paris in Round 2, started strongly with an opening try after just three minutes. Some powerful bursts from the forwards punched holes in the Italian defence, and when Caelan Doris found a gap, he offloaded to Sheehan who in turn fed Joey Carbery for the try.
Carbery converted but Italy responded with a long-range penalty from Edoardo Padovani after Tadhg Beirne was caught offside.
DOWN TO 13
They had lost Lucchesi by that point, and when Faiva saw red, any hopes of an upset went out of the window. The first scrum saw Italy drop down to 13 men, and Ireland took full advantage as Jamison Gibson-Park ran in try number two.
Debutant Lowry then showed his quick feet for the third try on the half-hour, comfortably beating his man when put into a one-on-one situation close to the line.
Italy were fighting hard, but this Ireland team is ruthless and Peter O’Mahony’s score two minutes before half-time wrapped up the bonus point.
The Azzurri did have the final say of the half, Paolo Garbisi knocking over a penalty to reduce the deficit to 24-6.
Italy could have added three more points early in the second half, but Garbisi’s effort drifted just wide.
PILING UP THE POINTS
But the visitors were defending valiantly despite their numerical disadvantage and Ireland had to wait until the 50th minute to get their fifth try.
Eventually it came, Italy just running out of numbers and Gibson-Park putting a long pass out to Lowe from the back of a ruck, the winner falling over the line untouched.
Farrell rang the changes, including bringing on Johnny Sexton to a huge ovation. The fly-half, who missed the loss in Paris, made an immediate impact, delivering the final offload to put Lowry in for his second.
Some opportunism from Ryan Baird allowed the second row to get over for the next score, ten minutes from time. He charged down Alessandro Fusco on the 22 and then had the pace to get to the ball first and scoop it up for the try. Sexton converted to make it 43-6.
And after Braam Steyn had been yellow-carded for intentionally batting the ball into touch, Italy found themselves down to 12 players.
With three extra men in the backline, Ireland had the simplest of tasks to get another try, Lowry unselfishly turning down the chance of a hat-trick to Lowe in for his second.
There was still time for one final try, Kieran Treadwell powering over from close range.
Ireland will now head to Twickenham in Round 4 knowing that a win against England will keep their title hopes alive, particularly with their improved points difference following this success.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Josh van der Flier has been one of Ireland’s best players in the Guinness Six Nations so far and he continued with another standout display here. Active both with the ball and in defence, Van der Flier was everywhere.
With 55 metres made with ball in hand and 12 tackles for just one miss, the stats bear out just how impressive a performance it was from Van der Flier.