By Padraic Halpin
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland survived some brilliant Japanese attacking play to gain some revenge for their shock 2019 World Cup defeat with a 39-31 win in an entertaining and free-scoring match at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The visitors led 24-19 eight minutes into the second half, but two quick tries from the home side swung the momentum and Ireland were able to banish some of the demons from that 19-12 defeat in Japan.
"That game in 2019 was probably one of the hardest games I played. The way they play, such a fast, quick tempo style of rugby, we knew this was going to be a seriously tough day," Ireland captain James Ryan said in a pitchside interview.
"That's exactly what it was and I'm delighted we got the win."
Missing their British and Irish Lions and resting three more experienced men including captain Johnny Sexton, Ireland still named a strong 15 with Sexton's heir apparent, injury-ravaged Joey Carbery, appearing for the first time since the World Cup.
While they struck first via Chris Farrell and outscored the visitors by three tries to two to lead narrowly at the break, the scoreline did not tell the tale of a half which Japan dominated for long periods, playing some breathless rugby.
Their two tries could not have been more different with Michael Leitch scoring off a drive from a 5-metre lineout and Timothy Lafaele - earlier denied a fine team effort by the television match official - getting his score after a superb side-footed crossfield kick from flyhalf Yu Tamura.
Despite some problems from early on in Andy Farrell's time in charge re-emerging, namely a disjointed attack and misfiring lineout, Ireland made the most of every opportunity with Stuart McCloskey and Finlay Bealham completing the first half scoring.
A debut Siosaia Fifita try from another nonchalant Tamura assist put the visitors back in front and just as Ireland looked like pulling away after Josh Van der Flier and Jacob Stockdale broke the tit-for-tat scoring, Naoto Saito finished off another superb team move for the game's ninth try.
But Japan began to tire and a more controlled Irish second half limited any further opportunities with Carbery - whom Irish fans will be delighted to see play a full 80 minutes - kicking Ireland into an eight-point lead they comfortably saw out.
The Irish play the United States in Dublin next Saturday, while it is now back-to-back defeats for Japan in their first fixtures since reaching the World Cup quarter-finals two years ago following last week's 28-10 loss to the Lions.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Additional reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Cawthorne)