HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND – The Brave Blossoms had momentum after a confidence-building opener against France, but that wave hit a wall the second time out.
A big, All Black wall.
Japan had upset on its mind against Les Bleus, but Friday against host nation New Zealand, the Brave Blossoms didn’t stand a chance. The tournament’s prohibitive favorite topped Japan 83-7 at Waikato Stadium before 30,484 screaming fans.
The crowd’s heart belonged to both the home team and, albeit to a lesser degree, the Brave Blossoms, who were adopted by local rugby supporters after their run at Les Bleus.
The nations observed a moment of silence before the Rugby World Cup match in honor of earthquake victims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Tohoku region. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Japan Rugby Football Union president and former prime minister Yoshiro Mori were on hand.
Japan coach John Kirwan, who earned 35 caps for All Blacks, was realistic about the match. The Japanese are on the way up, and New Zealand’s rugby side is world class.
“It was a good experience for our young guys,” Kirwan said. “Tonight was difficult, but the All Blacks can put 60 points on any team of the world. But the boys defended well, kept good structure. Playing the All Blacks at home, that’s tough.”
Japan made several lineup changes following the 47-21 loss to France, and the Brave Blossoms simply were overmatched.
The four members left in position from the World Cup opener were outside center Koji Taira, left wing Hirotoki “The Eel” Onozawa, open-side flanker Michael Leitch and lock Toshizumi Kitagawa.
Captain Takashi Kikutani was moved from blindside flanker to No. 8, while Itaru Taniguchi assumed Kikutani’s position, as regular No. 8 Ryukoliniasi Holani was lost for the remainder of the tournament after sustaining a knee ligament injury against France.
Japan’s sole point scorer against Les Bleus, fly-half James Arlidge, and veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka were rested against the world’s highest ranking side.
The All Blacks made nine changes to their starting lineup from their tournament-opening win over Tonga. In their previous meeting, at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks cruised to a 145-17 win over Japan. The latest result remained lopsided, but less so than the last game between the teams.
A very clinical All Blacks side brought in 13 tries against Japan’s sole one, which was scored by Onozawa in the 58th minute. Onozawa intercepted a pass from Colin Slade and scored from a 40-meter sprint, to the delight of the fans. Murray Williams converted the try, putting all Japanese points on the scoreboard with the maneuver.
The All Blacks, cruising to a 38-0 lead at halftime, worked quickly, spreading the ball wide from the breakdown, breaking through a Japanese defense not up to the task of stopping the world’s highest-ranked team.
New Zealand’s 13 tries came from 11 players, with Richard Kahui and Sonny Bill Williams each notching a pair.
“We didn’t try to push the game too much,” All Blacks head coach Graham Henry said. “We need to look after the ball better.”
The Brave Blossoms will have their shot against the Tongans on Wednesday in Whangarei.