This always had the look of a stressful enough one for Ireland and that had nothing to do with the lingering memory of the last time the sides met in Shizuoka in autumn 2019.
After all, you had an Ireland side, diluted by their missing British and Irish Lions and the demanding influence of Johnny Sexton, coming together with some new combinations for the first time since the Six Nations, taking on a Japan outfit having had so little game time since the last World Cup and yet having put in a reasonable shift last weekend against the Lions.
Still, the encounter was at least entertaining for the 3,000 who had returned to the Aviva Stadium with a total of nine tries scored – five coming Ireland’s way – though this was a bit of a slog for the home team who were opened up with ease when the Brave Blossoms launched their off-load-heavy counter-attacks.
In fact, the game only ever really looked on the secure side for Andy Farrell’s men after the hour mark through two penalties from Joey Carbery, who made a sound enough return to the Test arena after his injury issues since the World Cup.
Indeed, the sight of Hugo Keenan collecting a late kick from the visibly weary visitors and running back towards his own line to eat up vital seconds before the 80-minute mark on the stadium clock allowed him to jog into touch said much for how Ireland badly wanted things to end.
In many ways, though, this was a loaded situation for Farrell.
Achieve victory too easily and many would have questioned the quality of the opposition; fail to entirely put the Brave Blossoms away and then the notions that Ireland were either just too rusty or not in possession of their desired strength in depth could begin to rumble.
The struggle to win was how this one panned out – Finlay Bealham’s 41st-minute try and Carbery’s conversion to allow the hosts to lead 19-17 as the sides turned around looked absolutely pivotal – and yet this narrative will probably mean that Farrell still gained more knowledge from witnessing something which had to be fought for.
In theory, next weekend’s clash with the USA will be a much less challenging one, though this may hinge on how much the Irish coach tweaks his side with potentially Robert Baloucoune, Nick Timoney and Tom O’Toole all in line for first caps.
Anyway, at least there were some consistently good performances in green against the Japanese. Try scorer and man of the match Josh van der Flier really stepped up and had to as well with skipper James Ryan maybe not as fit, nor indeed effective, as he would have liked while Caelan Doris was strong too along with occasional but important moments courtesy of Peter O’Mahony.
Keenan, too, was solid at the back and had some useful incursions with Jamison Gibson-Park making some telling, though only occasional, breaks as well.
Stuart McCloskey – an all too rare start for the Ulsterman – did at least dot down while Ulster’s only other starter Jacob Stockdale did likewise, though neither are likely to be entirely happy with their impact on the contest, while there were distinctly off-colour moments from Ultan Dillane, Ronan Kelleher, Shane Daly, Dave Kilcoyne, Jordan Larmour, opening scorer Chris Farrell, Ryan, O’Mahony, Gibson-Park and even Doris.
At times, it really was ugly stuff from Ireland. From the 28th minute until the closing moments of the opening half, they were entirely error-strewn, looking leaden-footed when with the ball and worryingly much more active when it came to giving it up, missing tackles and conceding penalties.
When the game got loose, Ireland were in trouble. Only when they played it hard and direct, or patiently waited for their moments through multi-phases, did the win look achievable.
Farrell picked a team to get the job done and though they got there in the end, at times this looked as if it might end up as another Shizuoka.
Ireland: H Keenan, J Larmour, C Farrell, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, J Carbery, J Gibson-Park; D Kilcoyne, R Kelleher, F Bealham, U Dillane, J Ryan (capt), P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, C Doris
Subs: R Herring for Kelleher mins 70, E Byrne for Kilcoyne 58mins, J Ryan for Bealham 58mins, R Baird for Dillane 59mins, G Coombes for O’Mahony 70mins, C Casey for Gibson-Park 78mins, B Burns for Farrell 42mins, S Daly for Larmour 30mins