TOULOUSE, France – Japan narrowly lost a pulsating Rugby World Cup game 35-31 to Fiji at the Stade Municipal of Toulouse on Wednesday but the Brave Blossoms still earned a standing ovation from a thrilled crowd of some 35,000 spectators.
“Today’s game will be very important in the history of Japanese rugby,” Shotaro Onishi said after his side lit up the game of the tournament so far with some delightful attacking rugby. ” I only regret that we couldn’t win it.”
Said lock Luke Thompson, scorer of two tries for the Japan side: “We are pretty disappointed, we should have won. We played a good game style that shut them down. Just making our own mistakes and unforced errors, we only got ourselves to blame.”
Tension ran high with handling errors on both sides, and points were earned only from penalty kicks in the first half-hour, starting with fly-half Nicky Little’s for Fiji in the fourth minute, followed by two from Japanese center Onishi.
Fiji’s first try came from openside flanker Akapusi Qera, who, in true flying Fijian style, sprinted his way to the try-line from about 70 meters, gaining the ball by intercepting a loose Japanese pass. Little converted but the Japanese clawed back to 10-9 at halftime after Onishi’s penalty kick.
The second half started with Onishi putting Japan ahead 12-10 with another marvelous penalty kick from an acute angle.
The most intense 10 minutes of the game came shortly after, starting with the Fijian players showing off their Sevens-style quick passing, one move ending with scrum-half Mosese Rauluni’s long pass to wing Isoa Neivua, to Qera, who weaved his way among Japanese players behind the try line for a convenient position for Little to convert.
A Japanese turnover came a minute later, when lock Thompson took advantage of a gap in the Fijian defense line and scored Japan’s first try in the tournament, which Onishi converted to make the score 19-17 Japan. But three minutes later Little recaptured the Fijian lead at 20-19 with a penalty kick.
Moments later, center Seru Rabeni forced himself through Japanese defense and touched down behind the try line. Little missed the conversion but Fiji was now comfortable at 25-19.
It was time for the Brave Blossoms to show their Samurai spirit. The Blossoms opted for a line-out five meters from the Fijian try line and pushed a rolling maul over, prop Tomokazu Soma scoring the try from the group effort. But Onishi missed the conversion from a difficult angle, leaving the score at 25-24 just after the hour mark.
The pace calmed down a bit for the next 10 minutes, with Fijian lock Kele Leawere scoring a push-over try. Little converted and added a penalty kick shortly after for Fiji to lead 35-24 with just over 10 minutes to play.
But the game was far from being over. The Japanese earned another penalty which they kicked out to the corner before the Fijian try line, repeating the same scenario for a line-out and rolling maul which resulted in another push-over try, a second one for Thompson. Onishi converted but that was the end of the scoring.