TBILISI – Having waited 39 years and 25 games to mark its first win against a European team at home, Japan made it two in seven days when it beat Georgia 25-22 at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium on Saturday.
A drop goal by Kosei Ono three minutes into time added-on sealed the victory as Japan picked up its second win in Eastern Europe following on from last week’s 34-23 victory over Romania.
Ono’s opportunistic strike came after both sides went close to grabbing the decisive score — Georgia through its big powerful forwards and Japan through its high-paced game, which seemed to reach a new level with the introduction of Atsushi Hiwasa in the second half.
“I’ve lost one big game through a drop goal but never won one till now,” Japan coach Eddie Jones said, referring to the 2003 Rugby World Cup final when the Australia team he coached was beaten by England and Jonny Wilkinson.
Ono’s kick followed on from a try by Hirotoki Onozawa and five penalty goals and a conversion from Ayumu Goromaru and was just reward for the Brave Blossoms’ adventurous approach.
“We showed plenty of courage both physical and mental in the way we attacked from our own goal line,” Jones said.
It looked like it would be a long afternoon, especially when Goromaru missed his first kick at goal.
“If we had conceded a try in that first 20, then we would have lost the game,” said Jones.
But Japan’s fortunes seemed to turn shortly after as its commitment to play a fast-paced game started to pay off.
Goromaru found the target in the 25 and 35th minutes, before Georgia openside Viktor Kolelishvili was sent to the bin three minutes before the break.
Most sides would have settled going to the changing room three points down, particularly after the Georgians — despite being a man down — laid siege to the Japan line in the minutes leading up to the break. Onozawa and Japan, however, had different ideas.
A penalty against the Georgian pack had most thinking Japan would kick to touch to close out the half. But Onozawa took a quick tap and a minute later the veteran wing rounded off a flowing move to touch down in the corner. Goromaru added salt to the wound by knocking over the conversion from the touchline to make it 13-9 at the break.
Kvirikashvili added a fourth penalty shortly after the restart and then a fifth in the 50th minute as Georgia regained the lead.
The Georgian flyhalf then showed he wasn’t just a kicking machine as he crossed two minutes later following a good run by Lasha Khmaladze. Kvirikashvili’s conversion saw him and Georgia raise its tally to 22 points to Japan’s 13.