The final of the International Rugby Board’s Super Powers Cup, to be played on Sunday at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya, will be between Canada and Japan following Thursday’s semifinals at National Stadium.
On a day in which kicking was very much to the fore in both games, Wataru Ikeda marked his first start for the Brave Blossoms with 24 points, scoring a try, five penalties and converting Takafumi Hirao’s first-half try as Japan beat Russia 29-12.
The victory came as great relief to coach Mitsutake Hagimoto, whose first game in charge had been a dire 19-19 draw with South Korea on May 16.
“I am happy with the result,” he said after the game. “We worked hard at training for this and played simple rugby. It will give the players confidence.”
While the Japanese seemed more organized this time out with ball in hand and a great deal more resolute in defense, it has to be said that they were helped by the one-dimensional tactics of their opponents.
The Russians did score the first try of the game through Dmitry Dyatlov, following a simple back-row move close to the Japan line, but they lacked any real invention and pace out wide, making Japan’s job of defending easier.
The win will have gone a long way toward erasing the memories of last year’s 43-34 defeat in the same competition but the margin of victory should have been greater given that Japan led 26-5 with more than a quarter of the game to go.
Daisuke Ohata made a number of trademark breaks but failed to finish them off, perhaps indicating that he should stay on the wing rather than play in the center where the cover defense has less ground to cover, while the mental toughness of the players needs to be questioned after they allowed the Russians to dominate the final 20 minutes.
“We made many mistakes but I think we can do better on Sunday,” said Ohata. This view was shared by captain Takuro Miuchi who said the players showed a lot more heart than in the game against South Korea.
In the first game of the evening’s doubleheader, Canada edged the United States 23-20, with Jared Barker’s accuracy with the boot proving to be the difference between the two sides.
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