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Japan steamrolls Hong Kong 91-3 in Rugby WC qualifier

by Rich Freeman

Japan opened its qualifying campaign for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in emphatic style on Sunday with a 91-3 drubbing of Hong Kong at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Rugby Field.

In a game in which it took only 45 seconds for Japan to score through a penalty by Keiji Hirose, the Brave Blossoms ran their opposition ragged as forwards and backs combined at will to score 12 tries.

Daisuke Ohata accounted for six of those, taking his tally in international rugby to 51 from 47 tests. There also were touchdowns for Hirotoki Ono-zawa (2), Yasunori Watanabe, Hiroki Mizuno, Katoni Otukolo and Shigeyasu Takagi.

A further 31 points came from the boot of Hirose, who missed just two kicks all day, in adding 11 conversions and three penalties, taking his tally in test match rugby to 395.

“I was very pleased with the team’s defense and the interplay of our forwards and backs,” said head coach Mitsutake Hagimoto. “We’ve worked hard on our defense but next week’s game (against South Korea) will be a step up.”

Hagimoto also confirmed that the experiment of playing Ohata in the center would not be repeated, much to the relief of a great many who follow the game closely in Japan.

He is really a wing. When he plays out wide he has time to go around his man and beat the cover defense.

Not that Ohata needed his impressive speed to score the first of his six tries.

With just nine minutes on the clock, the mercurial Kobe Steel wing was the unlikely scorer as the Japan pack scored from a rolling maul after a good take in the line-out by Jamie Washington.

From that point onwards it was one-way traffic.

Washington, Watanabe and Hajime Kiso were outstanding in the lineout, and with captain Takuro Miuchi showing why he is so respected for his tenacity and street-wise approach to the game, the forwards laid the foundations for the huge win.

“Today was a good stepping stone following the tour of South America,” said Washington. “The game against Argentina set the standard on which to build and we have done a lot in training on staying on our feet and keeping the ball alive.”

The victory, Japan’s first since May 2004, comes on the back of some awful performances in Europe followed by a disappointing tour of South America, and will have gone a long way to restoring the confidence of the players as they head into a busy five-week period of games.