IRB Pacific Nations CUP
Fiji made an impressive start to their IRB Pacific Nations Cup campaign with a 22-8 victory over Japan in extremely wet conditions at Churchill Park in Lautoka before a 3,500 crowd on Saturday.
The four tries scored mean Fiji have moved to the top of the standings, albeit only on points difference from Tonga with Canada another point back after they recorded opening day wins over Japan and USA respectively last weekend.
Sireli Bobo took just 33 seconds to announce his return to the international stage after a three-year absence and score the opening try, but that would be the only score of the first half as Ayumu Goromaru and Setareki Koroilagilagi missed one and two penalty attempts in the conditions.
Japan finally did get on the scoreboard six minutes into the second half with Goromaru’s penalty, but within five minutes the Fijians had hit back with Bobo again involved before flanker Api Naikatini broke away to score in the corner to increase the lead to 10-3.
With the heavy rain continuing to fall in Lautoka a piece of brilliance and trickery from Nikola Matawalu brought about a third try in typical Fijian style, taking play from the home side’s 22 and finding his fellow replacement Aisea Natoga in support to score.
Koroilagilagi’s first successful kick of the day extended the lead to 17-3 with 10 minutes to go, but there was still time for two more tries despite the dreadful wet conditions.
Japan scored the first of them through Kenki Fukuoka, who had earlier come on as a replacement for Hirotoki Onozawa, the veteran wing who was winning his 80th cap to become the Brave Blossoms’ most-capped player.
Fiji, though, had the final say with centre Nemani Nadolo dotting down to secure a bonus point which could be crucial later in the tournament. The conversion was missed but it was the final act of the match.
The Fijians now travel to North America to face Canada at Twin Elm Rugby Park in Nepean on Wednesday, while the Brave Blossoms return home for a two-Test series with Wales before returning to PNC action for the tournament’s climax in Nagoya and Tokyo.