Japan continued their march towards a fifth successive HSBC Asian 5 Nations crown with a 52-8 victory over Korea at Seongnam Stadium in Seoul on Saturday, wing Hirotoki Onozawa scoring his second hat-trick of the season in the win.
The win, Japan’s 19th consecutive bonus point victory in the history of the competition, did not have any impact on the IRB World Rankings though, the Brave Blossoms remaining 14th, 14 places and 15.48 points above their hosts.
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Onozawa’s haul takes him to 49 tries in 70 Tests, equal fifth with former All Black Doug Howlett on the all-time international try list, and comes only a week after teenager Yoshikazu Fujita scored six on his Test debut in the rout of UAE.
Japan only led 14-0 at half time, but the entrance of scrum half Atsushi Hiwasa, who has just returned from a spell with Stade Français, provided the spark for Eddie Jones’ men to score six tries and pass the 50-point mark.
Korea, who stunned Hong Kong with a 21-19 victory last weekend, will have been the happier of the two camps despite the loss to their traditional rivals, coach Seo Chu Oh admitting his pride in his players.
“Full credit to both teams. Japan played very well but I think that our team played their hearts out and I am very proud of them. We will take a lot of positives from this game,” he said.
“Watching our performance against Japan makes me think that if we can continue to invest time and resources in our younger, domestic players we can continue to narrow the gap with Japan.”
This was the only match with the potential to impact the IRB World Rankings with the United Arab Emirates 46-31 win over Kazakhstan not counting due to the fact that the victors are not a Full Member Union of the International Rugby Board and therefore not ranked.
Developing the Game
It may well prove vital though in the UAE’s quest to remain in the Asian 5 Nations Top 5 with Kazakhstan the only side still searching for a victory after three of the five rounds of competition in 2012.
UAE dominated the first half and established a 29-0 lead at the break after tries from Sevens captain Tim Fletcher, flanker Brett Williams, full back Imad Reyal and scrum half Pat Hegarty in Dubai.
If the hosts were expecting to control the match in the second half then Kazakhstan had other ideas, fighting back to 34-24 with 10 minutes to go through Nikita Trofimov (2), Dmitriy Tronin and Anton Makarenko to create a tense atmosphere among the home fans.
That tension eased with two more tries for the UAE to secure a win which lifts them to third in the standings on six points, one more than Korea with Kazakhstan’s four-try bonus point leaving them bottom of the standings.
UAE Performance Manager Duncan Hall admitted: “It’s a relief for the guys definitely. We talked that this was definitely a winnable match and we are very lucky we kept our noses in front. Kazakhstan is a proud country. They never let down and they showed that today.”
Captain Alastair Thompson added: “I’m proud of the lads. I think we have done enough to stay up in the Top 5 and if so, we have moulded UAE rugby for the year ahead. The profile of staying up is vital for continuing to develop the Game in the UAE and in the region.”