The decent challenge posed by Japan — while still not coming anywhere near this inexperienced Irish side — was probably the perfect end to a summer tour which has thrown up an abundance of positives.
Ireland has benefited on three fronts from this tour. In the committee rooms, a fairly serious twist was made in America and here in Japan to harness votes to swing the 2023 World Cup a step closer to Ireland.
The success of that effort will become apparent in November.
How many of the newcomers — John Cooney became the eighth and final member of the touring party to be capped on Saturday — will cut it when the big guns return from Lions duty and injury, remains to be seen.
But they have been exposed to this level, albeit outside of tier one, and that won’t do them any harm.
All those eight debutants, and several more who came here with just a handful of caps, will go back to their provinces for preseason aiming to be still in the mix when Joe Schmidt calls his next squad together for the November internationals.
The third aspect of this tour which could bring significant benefit is the taste it has given to Ireland of what to expect when they come back here in two years for the World Cup.
The fixtures will be made in September and that will allow Ireland plan more, but in this densely populated country of 127 million, moving around, despite a brilliant transport system, takes a long time and that’s just one of the discoveries Schmidt and his team have sampled.
“Just getting to know the differences in culture, some of the expectations around what you have to do off the pitch as much as anything.
“Timing yourself between travel times to get to training venues – it’s taking 45 minutes. We are used to walking from the door, down the road and straight on the pitch. There are a number of things that allow us to build a bit of awareness.
We allowed 70 minutes to arrive here on a bus today (to the Ajinomoto Stadium where the opening ceremony will be held). You don’t ideally want to be travelling 70 minutes but that may be the fact of it when it comes to World Cup time.
“It’s just about getting balance and feeling reasonably hot with it. I don’t think we’ll be feeling this hot when we come back. I don’t think that will be the same factor.”
Schmidt’s network of contacts in Japan has increased from this tour — there are a lot of Kiwis in the game here — and in a few months they will be equipped with a lot more feel for the place when they start moving ahead with the 2019 RWC plan.
“There are a few people in this country that we have met and there are a few guys I know that coach here and we will certainly be looking around.
We are kind of waiting until September first as there is no point in looking too far ahead. We want to know where we will be first before putting plans in place,” added Schmidt.
His men seized control of this clash in front of a crowd of 29,354 once Garry Ringrose intercepted to score from distance.
Josh van der Flier scored his first Irish try and scrum-half Kieran Marmion and captain Rhys Ruddock both finished off good drives to push Ireland 28-8 in front at the break.
Japan, who sent centre Kotaro Matsushima over in the first half, stepped up a few gears after the restart and were rewarded with a try from winger Akihita Yamada.
But Ireland, with Devin Toner outstanding on his 50th cap and Jack Conan concluding a great tour for him with another big performance, finished with Sean Reidy crossing for his first Irish try.
His Ulster teammate Paddy Jackson kicked all five conversions — he has now hit 38 from 39 kicks since November for Ireland — to wrap up a successful tour where they scored 21 tries and conceded eight.
“Some guys have really put their foot forward and other guys clearly have a bit more work to do. Rhys did a fantastic job leading on the pitch but away from the pitch as well.
The depth of players is important but you also need depth of character. He really brought that to the job. Keith Earls is another guy. He has led on the pitch, he has been sensational off it.
“I’d like to think we are building depth. We are incredibly open-minded about it. Every bracket we have played new players have emerged. Last Six Nations Josh (van der Flier), Garry Ringrose came in last November and has become a regular member of the team.
Right at the end of this Six Nations Andrew Conway came in and played his first 40 minutes of test footie,” added Schmidt.
Scorers for Japan:
Tries: K Matsushima, A Yamada Pen: J Ogura
Scorers for Ireland:
Tries: G Ringrose, J van der Flier, K Marmion, R Ruddock, S Reidy Cons: P Jackson (5)
R Noguchi (R Yamanaka 68); A Yamada, K Matsushima, Y Tamura, K Fukuoka; J Ogura (R Matsuda 41), Y Nagare (F Tanaka 53); S Ishihara (K Inagaki 41),Y Niwai (S Horie 41), T Asahara (T Watanabe 41); L Thompson, U Helu (K Yatabe 64); M Leitch, S Matsuhashi (Y Tokanuga 68), A Mafi.
A Conway; K Earls (T O’Halloran 58), G Ringrose (R Scannell 79), L Marshall, J Stockdale; P Jackson, K Marmion (J Cooney 73); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 61), J Tracy (N Scannell 52), John Ryan (A Porter 61); K Treadwell (James Ryan 61), D Toner; R Ruddock (S Reidy 53-63 HIA), J van der Flier (Reidy 68), J Conan.
JP Doyle (England).
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