Hong Kong, April 19, 2014: Japan booked a much-longed for berth at the IRB Junior World Championship 2015 in Italy after being crowned champions of its sister tournament, the Junior World Rugby Trophy by defeating Tonga 35-10 in the final in Hong Kong on Saturday.
The Japanese, orchestrated superbly by half-backs Genki Okoshi and captain Rikiya Matsuda, scored four tries, including a penalty try, as they emerged triumphant at the Junior World Rugby Trophy for the first time.
Japan had fallen at the same stage on three occasions from 2010 to 2012, but it was fourth time lucky as Tonga failed to come to terms with the 100 miles an hour game of the Asian champions, whose defence also stood firm as they leaked only one try and that coming late in the game.
The victory means that Japan will take their place alongside the world’s top Under 20 teams next year for the first time since they dropped out of the Junior World Championship back in 2009.
“This is a very important victory for our country. This is the next generation of players, the future of Japan rugby and I’m very proud of the boys,” said happy Japan coach Keisuke Sawaki.
“As a nation we must now put more focus on this squad as we look ahead to the 2019 Rugby World Cup which will be hosted in Japan.”
Japan began the eight-team tournament with a 33-28 loss to Uruguay but bounced back strongly, winning the rest of their matches to march imperiously into the final, where Tonga were no match for them.
“In a way, looking back, it was good to lose to Uruguay in that first game for it focused our team on the areas we needed to improve on, and we have addressed those early issues successfully,” Sawaki added.
It was Tonga who drew first blood early in the final when fly half Mosese Latu knocked over a penalty, but Japan drew level soon with opposite number Matsuda converting the first of six kicks for a tally of 15 points from his golden boot.
A long stretch of Japanese pressure on Tonga’s try-line led to a penalty try, when an attacking scrum was collapsed, helping Japan to take a 10-3 lead into half-time at the Hong Kong Football Club.
This was stretched soon after the break to 15-3 by hooker Shunta Nakamura, who burrowed in for a try from close range with Tonga down a man after blindside flanker Kisina Neiufi was shown the yellow card for a deliberate infringement.
Battle of the Americas
Matsuda added two more penalties as Japan built a cushion, taking the lead out to 21-3 before Tongan hooker Haini Moala reduced the deficit by scoring from a forwards’ drive. Latu converted to cut the deficit to 21-10.
But the Japanese were in no mood to allow a comeback and two tries in the last five minutes from left wing Shuhei Narita, who ran 40 metres to score off an interception by centre Keisuke Moriya, and a pushover try from a five-metre scrum by replacement number 8 Takayuki Watanabe completed a memorable victory.
The third place play-off was a battle of the Americas and former JWRT champions that went right down to the wire with the USA holding on to beat Uruguay 26-25.
Uruguay finished with 12 men on the park in a match marred by foul play and were extremely unlucky to finish on the wrong side of the result having come back from a 20-3 deficit to level the score before USA fly half Ben Cima knocked over two penalties to give his side an ugly but effective win.
“It got a little bit rough but I guess this is all part of the development of a young team,” said USA coach Billy Millard. “It was a tough game, Uruguay is a class team and we did well to finish third in this tournament.”
The fifth place play-off, by contrast, was a one-sided affair with Georgia, who had been given a pep talk by national coach Milton Haig at their jersey presentation ceremony, running out convincing 46-17 winners over Namibia.
“We stuck to our game plan and everything worked today. It is a pity that our best game was our last game, but I’m very happy with my boys for all the effort they have shown in this tournament,” said Georgia assistant coach Lado Kilasonia.
Fly half Revaz Jinchvelashvili kicked 26 points in the win with Georgia’s four tries coming from Vakhtang Amiranashvili, Giorgi Talakhadze, Murazi Giorgadze and Davit Papavadze.
Hong Kong hungry for another chance
In the opening match of the day, two tries from outstanding flanker Lucas Rumball saved the blushes for second seeds Canada as they recovered from a 21-7 half-time deficit to defeat hosts Hong Kong 33-30 and finish seventh.
Canada had wing Nathan Yanagiya sent off for stamping in the 33rd minute and Hong Kong made the most of his absence with centre Joe Dignan adding a try to that scored earlier by wing Daniel Davidson to give the home team a healthy lead at the break.
But the left foot of fly half Adam McQueen kept Canada in the hunt as he knocked over four penalties and then converted both tries scored by the impressive Rumball to enable the North Americans to finish off a determined fight-back for their only win in the tournament.
“It was a good comeback and we scored a couple of decent tries with a man down. But overall we are disappointed with our results. This was a development tournament for us and now we know what (players) we have,” said Canada coach Mike Shelley.
His Hong Kong counterpart Pale Tauti said: “Canada came out in the second half and executed well while we failed to play smart rugby. We played at the wrong end of the field today.”
Hong Kong qualified for the eight-team competition as hosts but have now set their sights on next year’s event with Asian champions Japan being promoted to play in the top-tier Junior World Championship.
“If we win the Asian Under 19 competition in August, we will qualify for this tournament and now we will be better prepared. We showed we were not just making up the numbers,” Tauti said. —- IRB