Ireland warm up for NZ by thrashing below-par Japan 60-5
DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland warmed up for New Zealand by clobbering a disappointing Japan 60-5 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
The three biggest cheers were reserved for captain Jonathan Sexton on the occasion of his 100th cap for Ireland: When he entered the stadium alone before kickoff, when he scored a try, and when he left moments later while pointing to the Irish rugby crest on his jersey.
Wing Andrew Conway scored three of their nine tries, many of them stylish and highlight-reel worthy.
But if Ireland wanted a serious workout before welcoming the All Blacks next weekend then they didn’t get it. The Japan that pushed the British and Irish Lions in June, that lost to Ireland in a 39-31 in July, and took Australia to the brink last month, didn’t show up.
Japan’s defense was poor, its play sloppy, and its effort wanting.
Ireland was considerably strengthened from the July encounter with the return of its Lions -- five of whom were on the bench -- and veterans, including Sexton. With a near-full crowd back in the stadium, and a milestone for the hugely popular Sexton, Ireland was determined to put on a show.
“We’re happy that the performance matched the occasion,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said.
“It was nice to see some things coming to fruition. I thought when we were calm in attack, we were clinical. Sometimes we got ahead of ourselves.
“Two things stand out: Our defense was outstanding. We didn’t have to do much but there was a reason for that, we put pressure on Japan and they spilled the ball a bit. And our set-piece got on top of them.”
They were on the board within four minutes; center Bundee Aki and No. 8 Jack Conan giving wing James Lowe a too-easy free run to the corner.
Lowe was dropped during the Six Nations and missed the July tests because of injury. His pride was pricked but he heeded the coaches’ questions and looked for work.
He kept the ball alive for the second try, Conway’s first, from a Jamison Gibson Park grubber.
After the forwards mauled Japan for 30 meters, smooth passes by Aki, Sexton, and Hugo Keenan sent Conway untouched into the corner for his second try.
If Japan thought Ireland was in a playful mood, that was snuffed out by Kotaro Matsushima being slammed in a tackle by prop Tadhg Furlong, and center Timothy Lafaele stopped hard by opposite Garry Ringrose.
Another clinical play by Ireland just before halftime deserved a try. Conan stole a lineout, a Sexton bomb was caught by Keenan, Ireland rumbled to the line and prop Tadhg Furlong appeared to score on his 50th cap. But a slight knock on was detected and the try rubbed out.
Still, Japan hooker Atsushi Sakate ended up being sin-binned and Ireland led at halftime 29-0, its best interval score since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Rain started after halftime and grew heavier, and Ireland didn’t score for eight minutes until Japan missed touch, Keenan returned a 50:22 kick, and Gibson Park attacked the blindside with Sexton finishing to a giant roar.
Japan got its try by Siosaia Fifita in the muddle while the teams emptied their benches, then Sexton came off after three quarters of typically sterling work and 16 points, as many as he scored on his Ireland debut in 2009 against Fiji.
Despite the rain, Ireland finished with tries to Aki, Ringrose, Conway for his hat trick, and Cian Healy after a quick tap by prop Dan Sheehan on debut.
It shouldn’t be so easy next Saturday.
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