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Brave Blossoms fell Romanian Oaks to set up rugby final against Canucks

by Rich Freeman

Daisuke Ohata may well be the pin-up boy of Japanese rugby but 19-year-old Ayumu Goromaru is the face of the future and the two combined on Wednesday to send Japan into the final of the Toshiba Super Cup as the Brave Blossoms beat the Oaks of Romania 23-16 at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

News photoDaisuke Ohata of Japan scores a try during the second half against Romania in the Toshiba
Super Cup on Wednesday at National Stadium. Japan won 23-16.

With the game deadlocked at 16-16 with seven minutes left on the clock, the young Waseda University student showed tremendous poise under the high ball before making a scintillating break that led to Ohata scoring his second try of the game as Japan avenged its 25-10 loss to the same opponent in November 2004.

Ohata’s first try, which came in the 53rd minute following a well-worked short-arm penalty 30 meters out, had given Japan the lead for the first time in the game and resolute tackling ensured that Canadian coach Ric Suggitt’s wish would come true.

“For the sake of the tournament I would like the Toshiba Super Cup final to be between Canada and Japan,” said the affable Suggitt after the first semifinal, which had seen the Canucks edge arch-rival the United States 30-26 in a game between two well-matched teams playing a similar style of rugby.

Suggitt talked of how much he was looking forward to seeing Ohata play in the second semifinal, but he may not be quite so happy if the Kobe Steel star adds to his impressive test-match try tally in Sunday’s final — Ohata’s record now standing at an incredible 55 from 49 tests.

The Romanians had started in imposing form, and were first on the scoreboard when center Cristian Sauan crashed over for a try in the 20th minute as holes appeared in the Japanese midfield.

As recently as last autumn that would have set the floodgates open but the Brave Blossoms have rediscovered some self-belief and they slowly fought their way back into the game, with Kyohei Morita slotting over a drop goal to reduce the deficit to 7-3 in the 28th minute.

An exchange of penalties either side of halftime saw the lead stay at four points and the game remained a clash of styles with the physically imposing Oaks up against the speed and finesse of the Sakura, before Ohata and Gorumaru (who only came two minutes before his moment on the spotlight) took over.

Morita, who had a storming debut in last year’s final against the Canadians, finished with two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal.

“I am delighted that we won,” said Japan coach Mitsutake Hagimoto.

“The players are mentally much stronger and showed tremendous character in the last ten minutes, though we need to improve in the opening ten minutes,” added the former scrum-half.

The first semifinal may not have been pretty at times but was, as Canadian captain Mark Lawson described it, “a nail-biter and a win’s a win so we’ll take it.”

The delight on the faces of Suggitt and his team showed just how much the win meant.

“Every time we play them it means a lot to us. We have a lot of respect for the U.S. and never take them lightly,” he said.

In a game that saw the lead change on a number of occasions it was Aaron Abram’s try in the 75th minute, from a rolling maul that started 30 meters out, which eventually proved the difference. Derek Daypuck added three penalty goals and three conversions in a faultless display of goal kicking.

The tournament features the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th placed teams in the International Rugby Board’s rankings in Canada, Romania, the U.S. and Japan, respectively, and is designed to raise the level of these so-called second-tier nations.

As such the IRB Head of Rugby services, former Kobe Steel forward Mark Egan, was delighted with the evening’s entertainment.

“It was exactly what we wanted it to be,” he said. “We have pledged more money to these second tier nations and with the right investment and infrastructure, we hope they can reach the next level.”