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 Johnny Sexton on the occasion of his 100th cap for Ireland: When he entered the stadium alone before kick-off, 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 work-out 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 defence was poor, its play sloppy, and its effort wanting.
Ireland were 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 were determined to put on a show.
They were on the board within four minutes; centre 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 metres, smooth passes by Aki, Sexton, and Hugo Keenan sent Conway untouched into the corner for his second try.
With Japan hooker Atsushi Sakate sin-binned Ireland led at half-time 29-0, their best interval score since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Rain started after half-time and grew heavier, but Ireland continued to rack up the points.
Sexton claimed their fifth try and said afterwards: “It was a very special moment for me – it’s up there with the best moments of my career,” Sexton said of his 48th-minute touch down.
“There was an incredible ovation and then I saw my family, I knew where they were sitting before the game, and they were just smiling. The crowd at that moment I will remember forever.
“It’s just been a surreal day and a surreal week.”