Japan scored a last minute penalty try to record a 26-23 victory
over Tonga in the penultimate ANZ Pacific Nations Cup 2010 match.
Having lost 24-23 to Samoa in the opening round and 41-38 to Fiji last week the defeat was heartbreak for Tonga as they could only record their third losing bonus point of the tournament.
Japan did not gain the try scoring bonus point they required to stand any chance of winning the PNC title for the first time, however, meaning the winner would come from the final match of the tournament between Fiji and Samoa.
Despite not being in contention for the title themselves at the beginning of the match, Tonga scored the first points after just three minutes.
Wing William Helu, playing in just his second match for Tonga, pounced on a loose ball after Japan's Alisi Tupuailai had knocked on, before showing a great turn of pace to dummy his way to the try line.
Kurt Morath added the conversion and a further penalty seven minutes later to give Tonga a 10-0 lead at Apia Park and Japan suffered a further setback when the influential Ryan Nicholas had to be stretchered off.
Fly half James Arlidge scored two penalties for the Asian Five Nations champions before half time, however, to cut the deficit to four points and give John Kirwan's side some momentum for the second half.
As they had in the first half, however, Tonga scored within the opening three minutes of the restart with Morath making the scores 13-6 with his second penalty of the match, but Arlidge immediately hit back wiith his third.
Japan's prop Kensuke Hatakeyama, playing in his 14th test, scored their first try of the match in the 51st minute after several phases of play in the Tongan 22, which Arlidge converted to give Japan the lead for the first time.
Alipate Fatafehi scored a fine individual try in the 67th minute for Tonga to regain the lead after chasing his own kick to score under the posts and give Morath an easy conversion.
Arlidge and Morath exchanged further penalties in the last 10 minutes and at at 23-16 it looked as though Tonga would record their first PNZ 2010 victory but after losing captain Aleki Lutui to the sin bin Japan's scrum took advantage and were finally awarded a penalty try which Arlidge converted to secure the win.
Japan captainTakashi Kikutani:
"I had trust in my players and despite when we were down during the game, I kept on challenging the boys to give their best. We are happy about the win but we need to improve in a few areas as we prepare for other matches we play this year and next."
You can watch full match replays and highlights of the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup on-demand on the IRB website.