Ireland opened their tour of North America with a 25-6 victory over Canada at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver.
The tourists struggled to get the better of the Canucks, the world's 15th-ranked team, as Grand Slam-winning coach Declan Kidney took the opportunity to blood some new players in Vancouver. Tries from converted winger Barry Murphy, newcomer Ian Whitten and giant prop Tony Buckley, allied to 10 points from debutant outside-half Ian Keatley, put the game beyond the reach of a gutsy Canadian side.
In front of a 7,280-strong crowd, the home side remained in contention until the 63rd minute when centre Whitten, the youngest of Ireland's first-timers at 21, burst through for their second try. Keatley's conversion nudged Kidney's men into a 20-6 lead and a game that lacked Test match quality was as good as over.
Certainly the short preparation time and personnel changes played a part in the tourists failing to catch fire, but tour captain Rory Best and his players will not wish to dwell on what was an error-strewn display. With most of their Grand Slam winners otherwise engaged with the Lions and Leinster, Ireland were a much-changed outfit - with Buckley the only survivor from the 55-0 win over Canada at Thomond Park last November.
Canada, building for July's Rugby World Cup qualifiers against the USA, gave flanker Chauncey O'Toole a first cap and the hosts were definitely keen in impress in their first Test since the autumn. Keatley was off-target with his first penalty attempt and while the early exchanges were pretty physical, neither side could get themselves out of first gear.
Big Canadian wingers DTH van der Merwe and Dean van Camp looked dangerous whenever the ball came their way, but the hosts lacked a clinical edge. Ireland's first try, on 18 minutes, came out of nothing. Keatley hoisted an up and under, Canada failed to deal with it and the ball broke for another debutant Darren Cave to chip to the right corner for Murphy to gather and touch down.
Keatley converted but Ireland continued to lack fluidity and the Kieran Crowley-coached hosts were making them work hard for their possession. Canadian fullback James Pritchard made it 7-3 at half-time with a pinpoint penalty after good work from the forwards and busy scrum-half Ed Fairhurst.
Canada had a number of UK-based players in their squad, including Glasgow prop Kevin Tkachuk, and they were the better side during the opening stages of the second half. With Ireland looking sluggish, Pritchard made it a one-point game after Ian Dowling was penalised for not rolling away in the tackle.
Ireland's last visit to Canada, in 2000 when Bob Casey won his most recent cap before this game, saw them struggle to a 27-27 draw. But Canada's hopes of a shock result were left dangling when Keatley kicked two penalties around the hour mark - the second after Canadian flanker Adam Kleeberger had been sin-binned for killing ruck ball.
The Irish started to click, gaining ground through their powerful forwards, and three minutes later they turned defence into attack to score their second seven-pointer. Van der Merwe lacked support after a surging break through midfield and Ireland ran the ball back with purpose. Niall Ronan countered and dummied his way into the Canadian half before Cave's delayed pass put Whitten over in the corner.
Keatley added the extras and Ireland scored their third try, 11 minutes from the end, when Mick O'Driscoll was stopped just short of the line and a quick feed from Peter Stringer saw Buckley squeeze over from close range. Other chances were missed as the Canadians tired. Whitten knocked on with the line in his sight and lively replacement Eoin Reddan sparked a late push for a fourth score which never came.
The Irish management spoke before of this game being the start of their preparations for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. On this evidence, much work lies ahead for them in terms of building an extended squad.
Canada move to Toronto for a fixture with Wales next week - while the Irish travel to Santa Clara, California to take on the USA.
Canada: James Pritchard (Bedford Blues), Dean van Camp (Velox Valhallians), Ciaran Hearn (Castaway Wanderers), Ryan Smith (Calgary Irish), DTH van der Merwe (James Bay AA), David Spicer (University of Victoria), Ed Fairhurst (Cornish Pirates), Kevin Tkachuk (Glasgow Warriors), Pat Riordan, Scott Franklin (Cornish Pirates), Tyler Hotson (UBC Old Boy Ravens), Mike Burak (Cornish Pirates), Chauncey O'Toole (Castaway Wanderers), Adam Kleeberger (University of Victoria), Aaron Carpenter (Brantford Harelquins)
Replacements: Andrew Tiedemann (University of Victoria), Luke Tait (Stade Montois), Jebb Sinclair (Castaway Wanderers), Nanyak Dala (Castaway Wanderers), Sean Michael Stephen (Plymouth Albion), Phil Mack (James Bay AA), Ander Monro (Colorno)
Ireland: G Duffy (Connacht), B Murphy (Munster), D Cave (Ulster), I Whitten (Ulster), I Dowling (Munster), I Keatley (Connacht), P Stringer (Munster), T Court (Ulster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), B Casey (London Irish), M O'Driscoll (Munster), J Muldoon (Connacht), N Ronan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Connacht), M Ross (Harlequins), R Caldwell (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), E Reddan (London Wasps), N O'Connor (Ulster), D Hurley (Munster)