By Rich Freeman in Nagoya
The IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2013 will go down to the wire with three sides all in with a mathematical chance of claiming the silverware following the latest round of fixtures at the Mizuho Rugby Ground on Wednesday.
Canada went into their match with Japan needing a win to bag the title at the first time of asking. But they were beaten 16-13.
The result means Fiji, who defied the driving rain to run in four tries to beat the United States 35-10, and Tonga could finish top, depending on how their head-to-head finishes on Sunday in Tokyo. A low-scoring draw would still give the Canadians the silverware.
“It's tough to take,” said Canada captain Aaron Carpenter. “We just had a couple bits of ill-discipline and played too much in our own half.”
In the second match of the double header, Canada got on the scoreboard first when James Pritchard, winning his 50th cap, knocked over a penalty in the fourth minute.
That proved to be the only score of the half, however, as the Canadians used the conditions to slow the ball down at the breakdown and stop the hosts from playing their fast-paced game.
Japan needed a spark to get the home crowd involved and a good break by Yu Tamura in the 44th minute ended in a penalty for Japan.
Goromaru, who missed a kick in the first half, made no mistake, and the full back was on target again six minutes later as Japan took the lead.
Canada hit back
Canada hit straight back though with Nanyak Dala and Sean White combining to put Ciaran Hearn away for a try, as Japan paid the penalty for not reclaiming the restart cleanly. Pritchard added the extras as Canada went 10-6 up.
With the Canadians starting to tire, Japan fought back and a good break by Harumichi Tatekawa followed by some good support work by Male Sa'u saw Goromaru go over in the 63rd minute. The full back added the conversion as Japan went 13-10 up.
Pritchard levelled the scores with a penalty three minutes later, but Goromaru kept his nerve to knock over his third penalty of the evening in the 72nd minute to seal the win, Japan's first in this year's competition.
“I'm pretty pleased with the win,” said Japan head coach Eddie Jones, whose side beat Wales on Saturday. “We've beaten a side ranked above us two times in a row. That shows how good the mental application of the players is.”
Eagles say Bai to lead
In the first game, the Eagles had the better of the opening exchanges and they were rewarded with a penalty by Adam Siddall in the 10th minute.
Fiji, however, responded almost immediately when the Eagles were unable to deal with the restart and an infringement at the breakdown allowed Seremaia Bai to bring the sides level at 3-3.
The score seemed to lift the Fijians and Nikola Matawaku almost crossed in the 16th minute, losing the ball just short of the line. But the scrum half redeemed himself immediately when he pounced on a loose ball from the resulting scrum and went over. Bai added the extras to make it 10-3.
With the Fiji scrum on top, a good break by Nemani Nadolo was rounded off by Timoci Nagusa in the 22nd minute. Bai once again made sure of the kick as Fiji went 17-3 up.
The physicality of the game was taking its toll on the Americans who had to make a couple of changes in the first half. But they kept at it and were rewarded in the 39th minute when Andrew Suniula rounded off a period of pressure to score America’s first try of 2013. Siddall knocked over the conversion to make it 17-10 at the break.
The second half, however, was all Fiji.
A second scrum against the head saw Masi Matadi go over for his side's third try in the 46th minute and although Bai missed the conversion he added a penalty six minutes later as Fiji went 25-10 up.
Matawalu turned provider in the 57th minute when he launched a counter attack that resulted in Nemia Kenatale crossing for Fiji's fourth try. Bai once again turned the five-pointer into seven and then closed out the scoring with a penalty just before the final hooter.
“The players did well and the bonus point was really good to get,” said Fiji coach Inoke Male.
His American counterpart Mike Tolkin admitted his side - who currently props up the standings with just one point following three straight defeats, had lost it up front.
“The Fijian physicality gave us all sorts of problems in the set piece,” he said.