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 when it was reduced from 16 to 12 teams.
“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.
Defeat a good thing for Japan
“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.
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.