Fiji hold off spirited Japan in thriller

Fiji overcame sweltering conditions in Toulouse and stubborn Japanese resistance to win their opening pool B World Cup match 35-31 on Wednesday.

Japan thrilled the crowd by fighting all the way to the final whistle against their more experienced and bigger opponents, who picked up a crucial bonus point for scoring four tries, before agonisingly coming up just short.

The first period was marked by some wayward passing and dreadful handling, most notably from Fiji’s Leicester Tigers centre Seru Rabeni.

After penalties saw Japan open up a 6-3 lead, a handling error brought the opening try.

Japan scrumhalf Tomoki Yoshida fumbled a pass from the back of the scrum on the Fiji 10-yard line and flanker Akapusi Qera gathered up the loose ball, found a gap and sprinted fully 60 yards to score.

Just before the break Fiji winger Vilimoni Ratuvou was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle but Japan failed to take full advantage of the extra man, adding only six points for a 12-10 lead early in the second half.

Crucially, Fiji and Qera struck again for a short-handed try after a quick break from a scrum on 49 minutes.

Strangely, though, no sooner were Fiji back up to full strength than Japan’s New Zealand-born lock, Luke Thompson, found a gap inside the Fiji 22 and strolled through to score under the posts.

Onichi added the extra two points for a 19-17 lead.

In a thrilling, topsy-turvy match, gaps started to open up all over the field and a lightning break down the right from Fiji saw Rabeni finally hold a pass and touch down in the corner.

Japan soon struck back, advancing down their left by running a quickly taken penalty before delighting the Toulouse crowd by kicking for touch five yards out rather than at goal.

Their positive play was rewarded as they won clean line-out ball and a big heave saw prop Tomokazu Soma score a push-over try. Onishi missed the conversion, though, leaving Fiji with a 25-24 lead.

But Fiji’s superior power was beginning to tell and on 71 minutes lock Kele Leawere forced his way over to extend their lead.

Only back came Japan again with a converted Thompson try bringing the score back to 35-31 before Japan simply ran out of time. — AFP



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