BURNABY, CANADA – Japan lived up to its nickname Saturday as the Brave Blossoms came from behind to record their eighth straight win with a 34-25 victory over Canada in the Pacific Nations Cup.
A disastrous end to the first half at Swangard Stadium had seen Japan give away 17 points in eight minutes, but coach Eddie Jones’ halftime talk had the required effect as his side ran in three second-half tries and kept the hosts scoreless in the second 40 to record just its second win ever in Canada.
“Wow, that wasn’t good for the blood pressure. That was like a World Cup game. They were really pumped for this one playing at home,” Jones said after the victory, which came 28 years ago to the day after Japan’s only previous win in Canada, at the same venue.
“We needed to meet their physicality and didn’t do that in the first 40,” Jones said of his halftime talk. “There were two areas we needed to fix. We needed to get out of our own half and stop giving them easy gain line. Once we could do that, I knew our fitness and attack would come through for us.”
Japan’s forwards once again laid the foundations for the win by dominating the set piece, though they did at times struggle with referee Leighton Hodges’ interpretation of what was legal at the breakdown. And it was that difference in interpretation that resulted in Canada taking what many would have considered an unassailable lead at halftime.
Ciaran Hearn put the hosts on the scoreboard in the sixth minute when Japan’s attempt to run the ball out of its own 22 ended with the ball being turned over. But the Brave Blossoms played themselves back into the game and three penalties from Ayumu Goromaru against one from James Pritchard saw them lead 9-8 with 32 minutes on the clock.
Repeated team infringements at the breakdown, however, eventually saw Hodges dig into his pocket for a yellow card when Shota Horie erred one time too many. And with the Japan hooker on the naughty chair for 10 minutes, the Canadians took full advantage, running in tries by John Moonlight and Taylor Paris, with Pritchard adding a second penalty and two conversions to give the hosts a 25-9 lead at the break.
The second stanza, however, was a completely different affair as Japan made some adjustments at the breakdown and was finally able to make break the Canadian defensive line.
“We decided to attack a little wider in the second half even though the tries eventually came through the 10, 12 channel,” said Jones.
Yoshikazu Fujita, Yu Tamura and Hendrik Tui all crossed the whitewash as their angle of running and speed had the Canadians clutching at nothing but air.
Goromaru added two conversions and a further two penalties as Japan picked up its 13th win (against eight losses and two draws) against its oldest international rival, the first test between the two sides having been played in 1932.
“To win eight in a row and beat Canada in Canada really gives us a lot of confidence moving on to the World Cup,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.