Japan Passes Hard Test from Scrappy Tonga

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan’s players celebrates after the match.

TOKYO (Reuters) — Japan saw off a spirited Tongan side with a 21-16 Pacific Nations Cup victory at Hanazono Rugby Stadium near Osaka on Saturday that got its World Cup preparations back on track following a tight loss to Samoa last weekend.

Tries from Jone Naikabula and debutant Amato Fakatava in the first half and one from Semisi Masiwera in the second kept Japan in front for most of the game, but Tonga scored two tries of its own and was pressing for another until the end.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Amato Fakatava scores a try for Japan in the first half.

Winger Naikabula opened Japan’s account off an attacking scrum but just three minutes later a smart pickup by Tongan blindside Vaea Fifita around a weakly defended ruck set up scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua to run one in for the visiting side.

The back and forth continued throughout, punctuated by a series of handling errors on both sides which left little room to build phases and pressure.

With less than two minutes until the final whistle, Japan led by just five when an interception by Tonga outside center Afusipa Taumoepeau almost resulted in a try that would have leveled up the scores.

A last ditch try-saving tackle by replacement fullback Kotaro Matsushima, however, saved Japan and the host side held on to secure the victory.

Japan lacked the flair that characterized its 2019 World Cup performances, and it appeared to feel the absence of loose forward Michael Leitch, who was banned for a red card offence during last week’s loss to Samoa.

The win moved Japan to second place in the Pacific Nations Cup standings behind Fiji, which it meets in the final round next week.