American sports often have what is termed a franchise player — an athlete around whom a team is built.
With Japan building toward the 2007 Rugby World Cup, head coach Mitsutake Hagimoto could do a lot worse than base his side around 20-year-old flyhalf Kyohei Morita, who had a storming debut as the Brave Blossoms beat Canada 34-21 to claim the Toshiba Super Powers Cup at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya on Sunday.
And the former Kobe Steel head coach was quick to praise the Hosei University student after the game.
“His kicks and passes were spot on and the backs attacked very well and moved up quickly with him in charge,” he said.
With Japan coming off two less-than-impressive performances against South Korea and Russia, Morita belied his youth and lack of experience of rugby at the top level by controlling the game from start to finish.
A try and penalty may have been his only reward on the scoreboard but Morita’s passing and kicking dominated the game.
“I’d like to congratulate Japan and especially their No. 10,” said Canada coach Ric Suggitt. “He put in some world-class kicks and some huge bombs and orchestrated an excellent attack.
“It was like the Canadian dollar against the yen. The exchange rate was not good,” he added, referring to the huge gains in territory that Canada yielded to the boot of Morita.
The Canadians had opened the scoring in only the fourth minute through a try by Jared Barker but they were never able to really control the game, despite their obvious size advantage — perhaps an indication of their inexperience as eight players were making just their second start in test rugby.
Japan’s first five-pointer came three minutes later as the forwards got their rolling maul going and pushed captain Takuro Miucho over the line and although Canada led 18-10 at halftime, one felt the game was up for grabs, particularly as both sides seemed to be struggling with the heat.
Enter Morita, who showed a wide range of skills as Japan scored three second-half tries.
A well-timed pass put Koichi Ohigashi away for a try in the 43rd minute before the forwards laid the perfect foundation for Morita to score from five meters out in the 66th minute as Japan edged ahead 24-21.
Five minutes later it was Morita who provided the pass for Daisuke Ohata to cross on a great angled run and a superb 80-meter touch finder was followed up by a late penalty as the debutant finished off a day to remember.
In the game for third place, Mike Hercus scored a full house of a try, four penalties, three conversions and a drop goal for 26 points as the U.S. beat Russia 41-11.
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