Ciara Griffin scored two tries on her final appearance as 14-woman Ireland beat Japan 15-12 at the RDS.
The Ireland captain announced her surprise retirement earlier this week and her all-action performance only served to show how much the team will miss the 27-year-old.
Japan led 12-5 at the break and Griffin's second-half brace was just enough to get Ireland over the line but they had to survive a nervy ending.
Reduced to 14 players when Hannah O'Connor was red-carded in the 27th minute, it took all of Ireland reserve and determination to grind out the win.
The scrappy victory, in head coach Adam Grigg's final match in charge, was a badly needed boost as Ireland look to put a miserable 2021 behind them.
Shorn of four regulars in Beibhinn Parsons, Stacey Flood, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Eve Higgins, all of whom depart for Dubai for a sevens tournament tomorrow, Griggs made eight changes in total to the side that beat USA 20-10 last weekend.
Playing just a fourth home Test this year, the absence of those front-liners and Parsons, in particular, seemed like a lost opportunity to showcase the team's potential, especially given the live TV slot.
"We didn't make it easy, that’s for sure," Griffin told RTÉ Sport after the game.
"Thankfully we came out in the second half and made the corrections."
A heavy downpour during the anthems didn’t help matters but in general the Asian side, who have qualified for the World Cup, dealt with the greasy ball better.
Enya Breen, in her first start at out-half, slotted over a sixth-minute penalty when the Japan chasers went ahead of the kicker.
The hosts enjoyed better territory and possession in the first quarter, pushing the Japanese pack off the ball for two scrum penalties, but they couldn’t capitalise.
Wary of taking on the Irish in the lineout the Sakura XV were tapping their penalties quickly and twice broke the Irish line before getting the opening try.
Following a lineout on the halfway line, Japan passed the ball to midfield where Kanako Kobayashi broke free.
The centre had full-back Ria Anoku and Mana Furuta running in support and there simply wasn’t enough Irish cover.
Lesley KcKenzie’s side took confidence from that and were handed another advantage when number 8 O’Connor’s head collided with the head of hooker Nijiho Nagata in the 27th minute.
Referee Clara Munarini consulted with her TMO but the message was clear - "straight to head with no mitigation" - and the Blackrock College forward got her marching orders.
It was to get worse for Ireland 10 minutes later when Japan again breached a soft centre before pounding the line, eventually Seina Saito touching down for a try converted by Ayasa Otsuka.
A combination of Aoife Doyle and Lauren Delany denied Ayano Nagai a certain try after yet another breakaway and Ireland survived with a half-time deficit of 12-3.
It had to be her, didn't it? Ciara Griffin gets Ireland back into the game and the reaction from her teammates and the crowd says it all. What a moment at the RDS. pic.twitter.com/5HUA705Lg2— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) November 20, 2021
An early spell of pressure yielded Ireland’s first try with Griffin blocking down Otsuka’s clearance and following up with the touchdown in the corner.
The Kerry woman was immediately mobbed by her team-mates in scenes reminiscent of Johnny Sexton’s try celebration against Japan two weeks ago at the Aviva.
It soon got better when the Munster woman barged over for her second try in the 55th minute.
Ciara Griffin has done it again! Try number two, after a TMO review, and Ireland are in front. pic.twitter.com/Hjrll6yaM8— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) November 20, 2021
Strong running from Linda Djougang and Sene Naoupu got Ireland into position and a neat passage of play paved the way for Griffin’s brace.
First the UL Bohemians player took the ball into contact, making hard yards inside the 22 before being on hand to apply the finishing touch under the posts moments later.
Breen converted to give Ireland a 15-12 lead and only a Delaney knock on denied Aoife Doyle a try soon after.
Connacht’s Shannon Touhey, meanwhile, came on for a debut as Ireland held out a late spell of Japanese pressure to prevail and send Griffin off on a winning note after 41 caps.
The RDS salutes captain Ciara Griffin as her Irish career comes to an end. pic.twitter.com/QPfCVVnfQP— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) November 20, 2021
Ireland: Lauren Delany; Aoife Doyle, Eimear Considine, Sene Naoupu, Laura Sheehan; Enya Breen, Kathryn Dane; Laura Feely, Neve Jones, Linda Djougang; Aoife McDermott, Sam Monaghan; Ciara Griffin (capt), Edel McMahon, Hannah O'Connor.
Replacements: Cliodhna Moloney, Katie O'Dwyer, Mary Healy, Anna Caplice, Maeve Og O'Leary, Alisa Hughes, Shannon Touhey, Ella Roberts.
Japan: Ria Anoku; Hinano Nagura, Mana Furuta, Kanako Kobayashi, Komachi Imakugi; Ayasa Otsuka, Moe Tsukui; Sachiko Kato (capt), Nijiho Nagata, Makoto Lavemai; Kie Tamai, Otoka Yoshimura; Seina Saito, Misaki Suzuki, Ayano Nagai.
Replacements: Hinata Komaki, Ayumu Kokaji, Wako Kitano, Saki Minami, Iroha Nagata, Yuki Ito, Megumi Abe, Minori Yamamoto.
Referee: Clara Munarini (ITA)