The Ireland Under-19s (sponsored by PwC) kicked off a busy schedule of four matches in 15 days with an entertaining 40-29 victory over Japan U-19s in the first representative fixture at the newly-named Energia Park.
Tom Tierney's charges face the same opposition on Wednesday before a double header against France at the Sportsground and they began their campaign in fine style, running in six tries with the result never really in doubt from the moment Ireland scored three tries in a five-minute spell midway through the opening half.
The Ireland Under-19s suffered an early blow with the loss of full-back Jonathan Wren who picked up a leg injury in the third minute, but they wasted little time in grabbing the initiative with the opening try arriving just four minutes later.
Industrious captain Azur Allison, Luke Clohessy and Scott Penny were the pick of the forwards, along with the workmanlike Josh Wycherley, Billy Scannell and Charlie Ryan, as they laid solid foundations up front and provided quick ball for the backs.
PBC Cork centre Sean French, who certainly caught the eye in attack, played a clever chip to Ireland U-20-capped winger James McCarthy who drew the last man and passed inside for French to touch down. Out-half Bruce Houston's well-struck conversion meant Ireland were seven points to the good.
A lengthy injury break while Japanese captain Reiya Ueyama received attention seemed to break the home side's concentration and when play finally restarted, centre Itsuki Kodama barged through to touch down with out-half Rintaro Maruyama adding the extras to draw the sides level.
There were shades of Jacob Stockdale about McCarthy's 20th-minute lead try as the Munster Academy member intercepted Kodama's pass to score close to the posts, and Ireland, who had lost centre Stewart Moore to the sin-bin for an 18th-minute illegal tackle, notched a second try in as many minutes. Wren's replacement Iwan Hughes made the initial break and linked with the lively Conor Phillips who passed back inside for the full-back to score.
McCarthy was again involved in Ireland's fourth try in the 25th minute as he gathered his own chip and found French on his shoulder to complete his brace. Ballymena Academy's Houston converted three of the four first half tries, as the Ireland U-19s turned around 26-7 to the good.
Japan, who lost 38-31 to Leinster in midweek, made a bright start to the second half and were rewarded when Kodama slotted a good penalty and they made further inroads when right winger Ryosuke Kawase showed a good turn of space to spring over in the right corner.
It was game on at 26-17 but Ireland steadied the ship with a well-worked try in the 49th minute. French ran strongly into the 22 and the home side moved the ball out to the left for Hughes to power over for his second try in the left corner.
Houston's superbly-struck conversion game Ireland breathing space at 33-17, and Galwegians clubman Hugh Lane, who replaced the impressive McCarthy on the left wing, got in on the act with Ireland's sixth touchdown of the afternoon.
The speedy Kawase grabbed a couple of tries late on – in the 62nd and 68th minutes – to claim a hat-trick and put a better gloss on proceedings, but Ireland had done enough and were good value for the win in the sides' first meeting at Donnybrook.
Speaking afterwards, Ireland U-19 team manager Barney McGonigle said: “The management and players are delighted to have the opportunity to play the Japanese High Schools side. These two games are seen as being vital in preparing our players for the matches against France U-19s in Galway on April 2 and 7.
“The extended squad met up on Thursday in Dublin fully aware of the ability of a very talented Japan team. They worked hard under the direction of Tom (Tierney) and his assistants Colm McMahon and Bryan Young. The coaches had spent a lot of time putting together an effective plan for the U-19s to take into this first game.
“Two pitch sessions, as well as a Captain's Run, took place and all the work paid off with a fine collective performance. The players really stood up to the challenges presented by Japan and everyone's really looking forward to an equally difficult encounter on Wednesday.”
Referee: Cillian Hogan (IRFU)