Although it may not have been as comfortable a victory as some expected, Japan have underlined their credentials heading into the World Cup with a 34-20 win over the USA.
With the victory comes Japan first Pacific Nations title since 2014, and their first outright PNC title since 2011.
Japan and the US were both undefeated heading into the match, but Japan were expected to dominate proceedings at the neutral Fiji venue.
The Brave Blossoms raced out to a 14-0 lead, courtesy of tries to Michael Leitch and Kenki Fukuoka, with Yu Tamura proving accurate off the tee. Fukuoka’s try, in particular, gave Japanese fans plenty to cheer about. Some deft hands gave the diminutive winger plenty of space to work with down the right wing and he scorched away to give Japan a comfortable lead.
Spectators would have expected the Japanese side to push on from there but USA were the next to strike. First five AJ MacGinty broke the line in Japan’s 22 and Madison Hughes was on his left shoulder to take the easy pass and score near the posts.
The two sides traded penalties after some messy play, shortly after Fukuoka almost went in for his double. Timothy Lafaele put in an excellent grubber kick which Fukuoka scorched onto but his hands failed him at the last second. Referee Glen Jackson called play back for a penalty, which Tamura duly converted.
So it was that the Brave Blossoms went into the break with a 20-13 advantage – and it didn’t take long in the second half for them to extend their lead.
Some consistent possession for Japan eventually paid dividends. Tamura took the ball to the line then threw a trademark inside pass to fullback Ryohei Yamanaka who went in untouched.
That was evidently all the impetus that Japan needed because their next try was arguably the international try of the year to date. Yamanaka, Yutaka Nagare and Kotaro Matsushima all touched the ball in the lead up to Leitch’s second try of the game – a 60-metre effort that involved some of the best support play you’d ever see. That took Japan out to an unassailable 34-13 lead.
The match devolved into a bit of a slugfest from that point on. The Eagles scored a consolation try in the 72nd minute to flanker Hanco Germishuy, but that was to be the final scoring of the game.
It was far from a polished performance from the Brave Blossoms, in their second to last hit out before the World Cup – coach Jamie Joseph will have plenty to mull over before Japan’s final warm-up fixture against South Africa next month.
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