Japan may have made it 13 bonus point victories in a row in the HSBC Asian 5 Nations, but coach John Kirwan was far from pleased with his side’s performance as they ran out 45-22 winners over Hong Kong on Saturday.
The Brave Blossoms had overwhelmed Hong Kong 94-5 in Tokyo last year and seemed on course for another high score as they raced into a 31-3 lead by half time with five tries at the Hong Kong Football Club.
However, Hong Kong had other ideas and their gutsy display actually saw them outscore their visitors by three tries to two in the second half, two of their scores coming directly from Japanese errors to the frustration of Kirwan.
“It was a poor performance from our team,” admitted Kirwan, who saw wing Alisi Tupuailai score a hat-trick as Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Shaun Webb, Hirotoki Onozawa and Michael Leitch also touched down.
“We didn’t protect the ball and we lost our composure. I thought we were rusty at half time, but we got rustier as the game wore on. The only positive out of this game was the win, but I’d rather this happens now than later on this season … we have plenty of work to do.”
Best performance in recent years
While Kirwan was unimpressed by Japan’s performance with Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand little more than four months away, his counterpart Dai Rees could not hide the pride in the way his players recovered from a disappointing first half.
“We got in their faces and put them under pressure,” explained Rees. “This is the best performance in recent years against Japan and the guys can be very proud of themselves.”
Hong Kong’s fight back began within a minute of the restart when full back Ross Armour sliced through the Japan defence to send replacement wing Alex McQueen over under the posts, and two further tries followed as a result of errors by the visitors.
The first came when openside flanker Mark Goosen picked up from a breakdown and caught the defence flat-footed, before wing Rowan Varty picked up a dropped ball metres from his own try-line to race down the other end to score.
“We took our chances. We had two 50-50 chances to score tries and we took them,” added Rees. “We had an unfortunate first half and were hard done by in contact areas, but all credit to the guys for coming back strongly.”
Huge morale boost
Captain Tom McColl, a try scorer in last weekend’s 23-10 win in Kazakhstan, added: “I’m really happy that we didn’t give up. The disappointing thing is that we couldn’t quite get the bonus point for scoring four tries. This was our goal before the game, to be in contention for a win at the end or to try and score four tries.
“We gave away a few early soft tries but then our defence picked up. What we proved today is that we can compete with Japan and this is a huge morale boost for the team.”
Japan’s victory means they sit second in the Top 5 standings with six points, two fewer than surprise leaders the United Arab Emirates after they created history with a first ever international victory, 24-10 over Kazakhstan on Friday.
Hong Kong lie third with five points, two more than their next opponents Sri Lanka with Kazakhstan bottom of the standings and facing a battle to avoid losing their Top 5 status for 2012.
The Japan and Hong Kong women’s teams played each other in a curtain raiser to the Asian 5 Nations match with the more experienced Japanese running out 15-0 winners courtesy of first half tries by wing Yuki Nakao (2) and Akari Fujisaki.
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