TOWNSVILLE, Australia — Japan’s honeymoon in North Queensland came to an abrupt end at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Thursday as Fiji used its in-depth knowledge of Japanese rugby to defeat the Cherry Blossoms 41-13.
With six players in the Fiji squad plying their trade in Japan, the Cherry Blossoms had no answer to the tactics employed by the Fijians in the second half and 25 unanswered points saw the Japanese bandwagon come to a screeching halt.
“The first half was as we planned,” said coach Shogo Mukai. “But the Fijians kept kicking long in the second half and we just ran out of steam. We also made far too many turnovers and gave away too many penalties whenever we got into the Fiji half.”
As with Japan’s two earlier games the Japanese got off to the worse possible start, with Waiseli Serevi kicking a penalty in just the second minute and although Andy Miller responded with a penalty of his own and a huge drop goal from 50 meters out, sandwiching a penalty from Nicky Little, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Little had come on in the 11th minute to replace Serevi (who has a suspected broken collarbone) and his tactical kicking was to have a huge impact on the game, particularly in the second half when Fiji made the most of a strong northerly wind.
Fiji went into the break 16-13 up following tries by Norman Ligairi (who plays for the Yamaha club) and Aisea Tuilevu, while Miller accounted for all of Japan’s points with a try and conversion to add to his penalty and drop goal.
The Fijians started the second half in a far more positive mood and further tries from Ligairi, Tuilevu and Marika Vunibaka and 10 points from the boot of Little ensured they go into their crunch game with Scotland on Nov. 1 with a great deal more confidence than they had when they arrived in Townsville.
“We have a number of players playing Japan and we used their knowledge to identify Japan’s strengths and weaknesses and worked a game plan around it,” said Fiji coach Mac McCallion.
For the Japanese it was a case of what might have been. Too many turnovers in the tackle, particularly in the second half when the ball resembled a bar of soap, and a lack of communication in both attack and defense ensured they were unable to give Townsville the farewell present the locals were hoping for.
“We played their game not ours in the second half,” said Daisuke Ohata. “Today was our worst performance of this World Cup.”
With only four days to go before Japan has to take on the U.S. in Gosford, the big question will be whether Mukai can lift an obviously disappointed squad.
The Japanese players may have delighted the locals in the crowd with a lap of honor at the end of the game, complete with the town flags of Townsville and Thuringowa, but it must have seemed a very long walk for the players who knew they had let themselves down.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.