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Japan took another step toward qualifying for the 2003 Rugby World Cup with a world-record equaling 155-3 win over Taiwan at National Stadium, Tokyo on Saturday.

In a day of records, the winning margin equaled the previous best of 152 when Argentina beat Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier earlier this year. It also put to rest the ghost of Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1995 when the All Blacks beat Japan 145-17.

“We knew that (Yukio) Motoki had played in that game so we wanted to speed things up and erase that score from the record books,” said Andy Miller who himself set a Japanese record for 12 conversions, despite only kicking in the second half.

The score was a new record for Japan in a test match (beating the 134-6 victory over the same opposition in 1998, and was a milestone day for Daisuke Ohata who scored eight tries (a new national record) and in doing so became the leading scorer in Japanese test history with 30.

“We kept hearing the announcer about how close we were to the record so we kept spinning the ball wide,” said Hideki Nanba, who was captain for the day.

Having lost 54-31 and 119-7 to South Korea in its previous two qualifying games, the visitors knew their backs were up against the wall against a Japan side that had opened its campaign with a 90-24 win over the Koreans, and so it proved as they conceded 23 tries on the day.

The result means Japan has to win just one of its remaining two games (in Seoul on July 14 and in Taiwan the following week) to keep up its record of having appeared in every World Cup finals.

The game was basically over as a contest as early as the seventh minute as Japan rattled up 3 tries to lead 21-0. Taiwan did manage a penalty through Chen Chi-chung in the 11th minute but that was the only time it bothered the scoreboard operator as the Japanese ran in 11 tries, eight of which were converted by Toru Kurihara.

Japan introduced the game of rugby to Taiwan and the “teachers” were simply too big too fast and too professional. The “students” to their credit never gave up but as the game wore on it degenerated into which Japanese player would score next and which Taiwanese would go down injured next — the pace and power of the Japanese being so overwhelming.

Coach Shogo Mukai was naturally delighted that the team had almost achieved the “perfect win” that he had been hoping for, but like the players will be well aware that such a mismatch does little for either side.

“We knew that we were better than them so we gave it to the backs more than we would normally,” he said. “Obviously next week is an away game so we cannot do everything we want, but I hope we stick to our basic policy and keep the ball alive.”

The Taiwanese coach Wu Mao-Sheng said that he was very proud of his players for doing their best but that Japan was too good. He added that he hoped that the margin would be reduced when the two sides meet in two weeks time.

For Japan the World Cup dream gets ever closer but the players know that next week in the cauldron of Seoul things will be very different.

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