Japan claim three-peat over Tonga in Thriller
Japan have scored their third successive victory over Tonga in this afternoon’s ANZ Pacific Nations Cup clash in Lautoka grinding out a 21-19 win over a fast finishing Tongan team.
It was Japan who enjoyed the wealth of early possession and territory, launching wave after wave of attacks with a dangerous looking backline and it was only resolute defence from Tonga that stopped them from gaining an early ascendency on the scoreboard.
Yet it was Tonga that opened the scoring through Joseph Vaka who was moved into the centres from his favoured wing position for today’s clash. Tonga capitalised on a charge-down deep in the Japan 22 and from the ensuing play the ball was shifted wide to Vaka who scooped up a loose pass and sidled in untouched next to the posts. Pierre Hola converted to give Tonga a 7-0 lead.
Japan responded shortly after with a penalty – Tonga 7-3.
Japan took the lead soon after with a brilliant try to Shaun Webb after James Aldridge pulled off a wonderful chip and regather only to be pulled up painfully short of the try line by Joseph Vaka – but Webb was positioned beautifully at the back of the ensuing ruck to pounce over the line. Japan 8-7.
Webb extended the lead just before half time with his second try after more sustained pressure from the Japanese team had the Tongans on the back foot. Webb burst through the mid-field on the angle to touch down under the sticks – a try that was converted to give Japan a 15-7 half-time lead.
The Japanese backs, directed superbly by halfback Takashi Kikutani, were creating wonderful great opportunities particularly in the mid-field and if they could have managed to finish off opportunities they created the score could have been much greater.
Tonga opened up the second half account thanks to a brilliant individual effort by hooker ‘Iliasi Ma’asi who dummied his way for 30metres through the Japanese defence and score down the right flank. Hola converted – Japan 15-14.
French Referee Romain Poite sent Tonga’s second rower Joshua Afu to the bin shortly afterwards for repeated infringements yet the Japanese weren’t able to capitalise against the 14 men and it wasn’t until the 66th minute that Japan extended the lead through a penalty. Japan 18-14.
The final 15 minutes had the vocal crowd on their feet as both back lines launched attack after attack and when Ryan Nicolas slotted another penalty with just 32 minutes left it looked like Japan would hold out to be 21-14 victors.
But the Tongans had one attack left in them and from the kick-off Tevita Halaifonua darted down the right wing to score a wonderful solo try in the corner. It was left to Halaifonua to try and convert his try and tie the match but his kick sailed to the right and Japan secured yet another win over Tonga – their third in as many attempts.