Johnny Sexton said being mobbed by team-mates after marking his 100th Ireland cap with a try ranked among the “best moments” of his illustrious career.
Captain Sexton stylishly celebrated the milestone occasion by claiming the fifth of nine Irish scores during Saturday’s 60-5 demolition of Japan in Dublin.
The influential 36-year-old, who also kicked 11 points, received a standing ovation from spectators as fellow players piled on, before being given another rapturous reception when he was later withdrawn.
“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.
“I don’t think Andrew Conway came in because he thought I should have passed the ball to him!
“A 14-man pile on and it was a very special moment, and the crowd at that moment I will remember forever.
“It’s just been a surreal day and a surreal week.”
Andy Farrell’s men were in dominant mood from the outset and warmed up for next weekend’s showdown against New Zealand by producing some scintillating, free-flowing rugby.
Winger Conway claimed a hat-trick, while James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and replacement Cian Healy were also on the scoresheet.
Veteran fly-half Sexton became only the seventh Irishman to reach a century of appearances, following Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Rory Best, Paul O’Connell, John Hayes and Healy.
He received messages of support from each of those players ahead of the game and was also presented with a Samurai sword by Japan captain Pieter Labuschagne at full-time.
Asked what he would do with the gift, he replied: “Keep it away from Luca (his son) – he’ll bash his sisters with it!
“I’ll put it pride of place. It’s a special day and that’s a special memento to get from an opposition team, that’s very special for me.”
The Aviva Stadium was fully open to fans for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold early last year.
While the first of three autumn international on successive weekends was far from sold out, any negativity regarding the empty seats and Ireland’s decision to ditch their traditional green jerseys in favour of a purple alternative was swiftly eradicated by a spellbinding display.
“I thought that we saw glimpses of it last season but we didn’t do it consistently enough,” Sexton said of the performance.
“Today we probably took a step forward. We did it more consistently.
“Still parts of it that we need to do better, especially for next week against the best team in the world, but it was pretty good and we have been working on it for a long time.
A sensational gesture from @JRFURugby 👏 @JohnnySexton is presented with a Samurai sword by captain Pieter Labuschagne to celebrate his 100th cap for @IrishRugby! 🤝 #AutumnNationsSeries #IREvJPN pic.twitter.com/uJcGJDaAY6— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 6, 2021
“We got a result to go along with the performance today.”
Japan’s 57th-minute consolation came from winger Siosaia Fifita.
Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph said: “The Irish team played really well, they were playing – I felt – for one of their brothers in terms of Johnny Sexton.
“It was the first match in the stadium (with a sizeable crowd) for a long time, so there was a lot to play for and they are playing the All Blacks next week and we were on the receiving end of that.
“We’ve just got to get ourselves back up again now and get on with it.”