KUMAMOTO – Japan’s pace got the better of Romania’s brawn on Saturday as the Brave Blossoms downed the Oaks 33-21 at a packed Egao Kenko Stadium.
With Michael Leitch and Fumiaki Tanaka showing all their experience and Ryuji Noguchi and Jumpei Ogura highlighting the growing competitiveness of Japan’s young players, the Brave Blossoms were in a different class for about 50 minutes.
Though as coach Jamie Joseph pointed out, the final 30 minutes belonged to the visitors as Japan’s discipline faltered and its game fell off the pace, before it regrouped to prevent any further scores.
“The game played out as we expected,” Joseph said. “On one side of the ledger you had big guys playing a set-piece-orientated game that put us under pressure. And we played our style and fortunately we came out on top.
“It was clear and evident that when we get our game going we look good. But when we were put under pressure we did not execute our roles as well as in the first half. When you drop your guard at this level, teams come back and hit you.”
Japan captain Shota Horie said, “Romania showed their strengths but we were able to adapt and finish well.”
On a hot and muggy day in Kyushu, Japan took awhile to warm up and some sloppy mistakes allowed Romania to take an early lead with Florin Vlaicu banging over penalties from 48 and 30 meters out.
But the hosts slowly played themselves into the game as they upped the level of tempo led by Tanaka.
It was a quick line-out from the scrumhalf in the 12th minute that eventually saw the ball in the hands of Timothy Lafaele and his inch-perfect grubber kick was picked up by Akihito Yamada, who sprinted over from 35 meters out.
Ogura added the extras from out wide and then slotted over a brace of penalties as Japan went 13-6 up with 23 minutes on the clock.
An exchange of penalties between Vlaicu and Ogura was then followed by Japan’s second try with Kenki Fukuoka making the most of a good long pass from Derek Carpenter to go over following some good ball retention from both backs and forwards.
Ogura was once again on target from out wide as Japan went into the break leading 23-9.
“The heat and humidity was a big factor,” said Romania coach Lynn Howells. “The players found it very difficult to speak in the first 30 minutes and our communication and defense suffered.”
And it took just 90 seconds of the second half for the Brave Blossoms to increase the lead with Leitch picking a superb angle from a delayed pass from Ogura to bisect the visitors’ defense before his pace saw him home from 30 meters out.
“If there is such a thing as an X-factor in the forwards it was that try,” Joseph said of the blindside flanker’s effort.
Ogura’s impressive display with the boot continued with the conversion and a fourth penalty in the 53rd minute stretching the lead to 33-9.
But with indiscipline creeping into the Japan game, the Romanian power game took over with Mihai Macovei and Fonovai Tangimana both crossing the chalk as the Oaks pulled back to 33-21 with 13 minutes remaining.
Romania threatened time and time again to close the gap to just one score, but Japan then regrouped and defended its line and maintained its 12-point lead to the final whistle.
“We need to be more disciplined and trust each other so players don’t feel they have to do things that get them penalized or shown a yellow card. It’s too hard.” said Joseph.
“When we were back to 15 players we got control back of the game and should have scored right at the end.”