Japan snatch late winner in cruel end for Zim

(IRB.COM) Monday 18 June 2012
 Japan snatch late winner in cruel end for Zim
Zimbabwe left-wing Justin Coles dives over for a try during his side's Round One match against Japan at the JWRT 2012 in Utah. Photo: David Brinton

Japan overcame a late second half rally by Zimbabwe on a try from reserve fullback Yutaro Murai in the final seconds to capture a dramatic 39-36 victory over the Sables to open IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 in thrilling fashion at Murray Rugby Park.

The Brave Blossoms survived a 22-0 run by Zimbabwe that allowed it to erase a 20 point second-half deficit. Missed kicks after the try on several occasions kept Japan vulnerable to a comeback attempt. 

Zimbabwe used its size advantage to gain early advantage in the scrums and set up scoring opportunities. The Sables did not waste those chances. Sean Linfield punched it in to put Zimbabwe on the board first and converted the kick to make it 7-0.

Japan evened it up on a try and kick from Rikiya Matsuda, but the Sables regained the lead when Justin Coles scored a try and Linfield converted the ensuing kick to make it 14-7. Dylan Coetzee set up the go-ahead score with a break and recycled it to the left side where Coles made a powerful run down the left line to score the try.

The Brave Blossoms eventually overcame their slow start and used their speed to take control of the match. Zimbabwe struggled to land any solid hits because of Japan's shiftiness and could do little to impede them from advancing to the goal.

Japan ran off three straight successful tries to close out the first half. The Brave Blossoms took the lead when Hayato Nishiuchi broke free down the left line to punch in a try and make it 17-14 for Japan. Seiyu Kohara boosted the lead to 22-14 just before half-time when Matsuda found him at the end of a series of laterals that opened a lane for Kohara to sprint down the right line unopposed for the try.

It was more of the same in the second half. Japan capped a 27-0 run with another pair of tries. The final try came off a nice chip and chase that freed Jumpeu Ogura to punch it in and put the Brave Blossoms ahead 34-14. 

Coetzee stopped the bleeding for Zimbabwe when scored a try from a five-metre scrum. Linfield made the kick to cut it to 34-21. Tapiwa Tsomondo rumbled down the middle away from several trailing Japanese defenders to make it 34-28. The Sables got in a position to retake the lead when Tyran Fagan took a one-hand flick pass from Andries Van Heerden and burst down the right line to cut it to 34-33. The failed conversion from Linfield left Zim one point adrift.

But Linfield got his chance for redemption as time was running down. This time around, he lined up for a penalty kick after Japan went off their feet at a tackle and he put it through the uprights to make it 36-34.

In the end, it was not enough to hold off the Brave Blossoms. Murai found daylight and punched in a try from the right corner to help Japan start off pool play with an important victory.