PNC - Japan Stun Tonga
Second-half tries by Takashi Kikutani, Hirotoki Onozawa, Shaun Webb and Bryce Robins together with five penalties from James Arlidge ensured Japan picked up a bonus point for the first time in the three-year history of the tournament.
“The team played for 80 minutes and showed really good commitment across the field,” said coach John Kirwan.
A week after a disappointing loss to Australia A, Japan were a different side.
With the backrow of Kikutani, Hare Makiri and Takuro Miuchi dominating the breakdown and first-up tackles being made, the hosts weathered the first 20 minutes before settling into their own game.
Arlidge and Pierre Hola exchanged penalties early on, before Japan made the most of Tongan indiscipline to head into the break 12-6 up, as Arlidge continued to slot over his goals.
The second half was – aside from a soft try to Lotu Filipine – all Japan.
Kikutani wrapped a superb individual performance by touching down in the 46th minute before Onozawa made the most of some good work by Koji Taira in taking out two defenders, to make it 25-13.
Webb then raced 80 meters for Japan’s third try after Hitoshi Ono did well to regather a Tongan Garryowen, before Robins wrapped up the game with the all-important fourth try.
“We wanted to play a wide game,” said Tonga captain Nili Latu. “We didn’t trust in our system and it cost us the game.”
The Japan players and coaches to a man were particularly happy with the defensive effort, given some of the poor tackling in last week’s game.
“It was really good to get four tries,” said captain Takuro Miuchi. “But just as important was our defense, which was really good today.”
Two years ago Japan lost 57-16 to the same opposition before winning 20-17 last year.
Kirwan said the difference was his team are now playing a Japanese style of rugby.
“We are playing a style that suits the players,” he said. “We showed real courage in defense and took risks with ball in hand. That combination and the speed we play means we are finally playing like a Japanese side.”