Japan responded in the best possible way to stinging criticism from head coach Jamie Joseph by beating South Korea 80-10 Saturday in the Asia Rugby Championship.
The Brave Blossoms had been accused of lacking hunger and passion in the opening round’s 47-29 win in Incheon. But at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, they hit back, running in 12 tries and producing a far better defensive effort.
“They responded well from last week’s performance,” Joseph said of his players. “Defensively, we saw a turnaround in attitude. We stopped them and drove them back and stopped them from getting over the gain line. And in attack, we showed confidence, skill and speed.”
Malgene Ilaua and Shuhei Matsuhashi epitomized the forward effort, knocking the South Koreans backward in the tackle and constantly making yards with ball in hand. While in the backs, Ryohei Yamanaka had an outstanding game at outside center.
Wing Amanaki Lotoahea was the chief recipient of his teammates’ efforts, running in a hat-trick of tries as the visitors wilted under the pressure.
“The majority of our tries were scored by the outside backs which means the forwards were doing their job and creating space and front-foot ball,” said Joseph.
The Brave Blossoms led 31-5 at the break thanks to tries from Samuela Anise, Lotoahea, Yutaka Nagare, Naoki Ozawa and Akihito Yamada and three conversions from Jumpei Ogura, as they varied their point of attack to good effect.
Rolling mauls, quick ruck ball and soft hands and vision, that saw the ball go wide when needed, ensured the game was won by halftime.
The South Koreans showed glimpses of what they could do when Kim Hyun-soo crossed just before the break, but it was more often than not a case of what might have been.
“We made some good line breaks but the support wasn’t urgent enough and we didn’t look after the ball,” rued South Korea coach John Walters.
The second half was a repeat of the first with Japan running in seven more tries and allowing the South Koreans just one through Yu Jae-hyeok.
Lotoahea bagged two more with Atsushi Sakate, Rikiya Matsuda, Yamanaka, Ryoto Nakamura and Takeshi Hino crossing the chalk, Ogura adding two more conversions and debutant Takuya Yamasawa kicking five from five.
“I’m never satisfied,” said Joseph. “We probably could have scored a few more points if players didn’t hang onto the ball.”
But the former New Zealand and Japan international admitted the mental turnaround shown by his team had delighted him.
“It’s very easy to coach a team that takes responsibility for their performance,” he said. “The team trained very hard this week, took responsibility for last week and got things right.”