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Japan edges Tonga in Pacific Nations Cup

by Zilia Papp

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia — In a tight and physical game, Japan beat Tonga 20-17 in the country’s second-round affair in the Pacific Nations Cup.

It seems that Japan coach John Kirwan’s strategy development from last week’s game and forwards coach Chris Gibbs’ game-management instructions left their mark on the team.

The result? Japan’s first win in the Pacific Nations Cup.

“It is a great day for Japanese rugby,” said a gleaming Kirwan after the game. “It is important in this team’s life to believe in themselves.

“We proved today that we can win. All Japanese fans should feel proud of our boys today.”

The Tongan side played a rough, aggressive style, but Japan managed to stick to its game plan until the last 10 minutes, when it appeared Tonga started to gain momentum.

Stand-off Eiji Ando started with a penalty kick in the seventh minute.

While the Japanese defense was consistent throughout the game, in the 12th minute Tongan center Isileli Fine took advantage of a gap between the forwards and backs line, and scored a try that fullback Fangatapu Apikotoa converted.

In the 34th minute, fullback Goshi Tachikawa sustained a serious knee injury, but the ball ended from the developed ruck to wing Kosuke Endo, who scored Japan’s first try that Ando successfully converted, only to miss a penalty kick just before halftime.

Tonga seemed to lose its cool in the second half with lock Aleki Lutui earning a yellow card for rough play in the fifth minute.

In the eight minute, Eiji Ando placed another penalty kick to start up Japan’s game plan of putting pressure on the Tongan team.

In the 24th minute, lock Teu Muli Kaufusi received a yellow card and 10 minutes on the bench for professional fault.

Japan capitalized on the opportunity. Lock Hitoshi Ono placed a try from a rolling maul pushed over the try-line.

Tonga gained its strength back in the last 10 minutes, with center Hudson Tongauiha and wing Vungakoto Lilo scoring two tries in a row, but fullback Fangatapu Apikotoa missing the conversions ensured that Japan would walk away with a tight victory at the end.

“After our loss in the second half to Fiji, we concentrated on our game-management skills for this game,” said Takuro Miuchi, Japan’s captain and No. 8.

“This time we made sure to control the game for the (entire) 80 minutes. While we lost concentration in the last 10, this game helped us build self-confidence. Tonga is a strong team and we won this time.

“We can now begin to believe that we can win games at the World Cup.”