VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Japan lived up to its nickname Saturday as it beat its oldest international opponent, Canada, 26-22 at test rugby’s newest venue, BC Place.
The Brave Blossoms were forced to play for 26 minutes with 14 men after Yoshiya Hosoda marked his international debut with a red card for a dangerous clear-out at a ruck. But Mark Hammett’s men outscored Canada 10-5 in the closing stages despite being a man down and then held on during a frantic finish that saw Canada over the line but unable to ground the ball.
A try from Kotaro Matsushima created by Kaito Shigeno in the 70th minute and a penalty from Yu Tamura — who kicked six from six for 16 points — five minutes later ensured Aaron Carpenter’s late try was nothing more than a consolation for the hosts, who outscored Japan four tries to two.
“We had some new faces amongst the forwards and we didn’t work together well at the start, but we got better in the second half,” prop Kensuke Hatakeyama said. “The most important thing is we won.”
Japan dominated the opening exchanges but it was Canada that opened the scoring in the sixth minute when Taylor Paris powered over following some good work from his forwards.
Tamura closed the gap with a penalty five minutes later, as the Brave Blossoms once again dominated in terms of territory and possession, only for the Canadians to hit back.
The hosts’ second venture into Japan’s 22 resulted in a try for Ray Barkwill as the men in red dominated the breakdown. Gordon McRorie added the extras to make it 12-3 with 22 minutes on the clock.
Japan nevertheless started to click, slowly but surely, putting the phases together, keeping possession and then hitting back, with Takeshi Kizu going over in the 34th minute following a well-worked driving maul.
Most of the credit, however, should go to Taiyo Ando, whose great steal at the breakdown a few minutes earlier set up the field position from which Kizu went over.
Tamura banged over the conversion and then added a penalty as Japan went into the break up 13-12.
But the lead was short-lived, as Jamie Cudmore barged over five minutes after the restart as the Canadian pack kept it tight and forced the Brave Blossoms into submission.
A second penalty from Tamura in the 51st minute closed the gap, and with Canada No. 8 Carpenter sent to the sin bin, Japan should have capitalized.
But Hosoda’s red card in the 54th minute — just the third handed to a Japan player in 84 years of test rugby — changed things and forced Japan to play a slightly more conservative game.
Fortunately for the visitors, McRorie’s radar was not working properly and Canada was made to pay for its inability to take the points on offer when Shigeno’s brilliant break and offload put Matsushima away.
“The timing of the throw (from Shigeno) was just right,” Matsushima said. “It wouldn’t have been a try any other way.”
Carpenter’s try set up a grandstand finish but the Brave Blossoms just held on.