Fiji and Japan provide thrilling PNC finale

(IRB.COM) Friday 3 July 2009
 
 Fiji and Japan provide thrilling PNC finale
Fiji beat Japan 40-39 with the final play of the tournament's final match - Photo: Oceaniarugby.com

Fiji and Japan put on a masterclass of adventurous running rugby at the National Stadium in Suva to bring a thrilling end to the 2009 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup.

The home favourites led 20-14 at the break but had to come from behind in the second half and snatched victory at the death from the Japanese with number 8 Netani Talei's try, 40-39.

On Thursday the Junior All Blacks recovered from a first-half deficit against Tonga to record a 47-25 victory and celebrate their tournament triumph in style.

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Fiji 40-39 Japan

John Kirwan's Japan side made early inroads and took a deserved lead in the sixth minute when flanker Taufa Toetu'u crossed for a try converted by Ryan Nicholas.

The home side pulled back three points through centre Seremaia Baikeinuku but again the Japanese side's pace and energy earned them a well-worked try for wing Jack Tarrant.

Nicholas converted again to give the visitors a healthy 14-3 lead but the Fijians responded to the home crowd and Nemia Kenatale Ranuku crossed for their opening try three minutes later on the 20 minute mark.

As Nicholas missed two opportunities to extend the Japanese lead, the Fijians grew into the match and their heightened sense of confidence brought with it some typical flashes of brilliance. Seremaia Baikeinuku slotted a neat penalty to bring the score to 14-13 before the national Sevens captain Vereniki Goneva sprinted over for a converted score to give them what had looked an unlikely 20-14 half time lead.

The sunny conditions did not let up in the second half, and neither did the quality of rugby as once again the Japanese stormed out of the blocks.

Hooker Yusuke Aoki crashed over two minutes after the restart, soon followed by a try for captain and number 8 Takashi Kikutani. Nicholas studiously added one conversion and the Cherry Blossoms led 26-20.

The pace of the match dictated that fatigue and resulting indiscipline would begin to tell and Fiji slotted two penalties to Japan's one in a tight middle phase of the second period, which left the Japanese side three points clear at 29-26, and when Takashi Kikutani cruised over for his second score on 72 minutes the Japanese looked destined for a fine victory at 36-26.

Sireli Ledua's try on 76 minutes brought Fiji back into the game at 36-33 before Nicholas' penalty on full time left the Fijians needing a converted try for victory.

With the expectant home crowd at fever pitch, Netani Talei drove for the line after three minutes of injury time and scored, leaving Baikeinuku with a conversion to win. He duly obliged to send his teammates and thousands of home supporters into dilirious celebration.

The match provided a fitting finale to the 2009 ANZ Pacific Nations Cup, which was ably hosted by the Fiji Rugby Union.