Japan beat Fiji in Pacific Nations Cup opener, Samoa down Tonga

by AFP

Kotaro Matsushima scored two tries as Japan beat Fiji 34-21 in a confidence-boosting win ahead of their home World Cup on Saturday.

The Brave Blossoms bagged five tries to Fiji's three in their opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup, two months before Japan hosts the first World Cup to be held in Asia.

Earlier, Samoa opened the tournament with a 25-17, come-from-behind win against Tonga in a match played in a greasy mudbath in Apia.

Japan, hosting their first Test match at World Cup venue Kamaishi, which was ravaged by the 2011 tsunami disaster, took an early lead.

After a Yu Tamura penalty, Kenki Fukuoka dived over for their first try before Levani Botia crossed at the other end for Fiji.

However, Matsushima scored his first try shortly afterwards before Timothy Lafaele and Kazuki Himeno made it four tries to Japan in the opening half-hour.

Matsushima's second effort, in the second half, rounded off the scoring for the hosts in front of 13,000 fans.

"I'm so glad to win against the wonderful team," fly-half Tamura said. "We outperformed them in contact," he added.

Captain Michael Leitch said: "We really felt progress in our team. Fiji were really tough."

"People's strife was our motivation," added Leitch, referring to Kamaishi's efforts to recover from the 2011 disaster.

Kamaishi's World Cup stadium is on the site of two schools devastated by the tsunami, where 400 pupils managed a miraculous escape. 

Earlier, Samoa came from behind to beat a 13-man  Tonga 25-17 Saturday in a match played in a greasy mudbath in Apia to open the Pacific Nations Cup tournament. 

Tonga, already hampered by the late withdrawal of the inspirational Nasi Manu, had two players in the sin-bin when Afasetiti Amosa and then Belgium Tuatagaloa swung the game Samoa's way with tries in the closing minutes.

Torrential rain before kick-off reduced Apia Park to a quagmire which impacted on the game as a spectacle despite a willingness by both sides to throw the ball around. 

Manu, who was only cleared of testicular cancer last month, was set to cap his remarkable recovery by captaining Tonga, but a few hours before kick-off the Tonga Rugby Union tweeted that the affable 30-year-old was injured and would take no part in the tournament. 

Samoa dominated possession and territory but were held out in the first half by the staunch defence of Tonga who led 10-3 at the turn with two tries coming when they reverted to wet weather rugby. 

The first was initiated by a raking kick downfield by Samisoni Fisilau with Cooper Vuna winning the race for the ball to toe it over the line to score.

Human battering ram Ben Tamiefuna scored the second from a close-range charge through the Samoan pack. 

A short lineout early in the second half finally exposed a hole in the Tongan defence with Amosa, having an impressive outing on debut, strolling through a gap to put Alapati Leiua away for the try. 

Flyhalf Ulapano Seuteni, another of the four Samoans playing their first Test, landed the conversion to level the scores and then kicked a close-range 

penalty to put the hosts ahead for the first time. 

Replacement hooker Sefo Sakalia scored under the posts to regain the lead for Tonga but then undid the good work by being yellow carded for pulling down a maul when his side was already a man down following a Onehunga Havili no-arms tackle.

 It not only cost Tonga the lead but the two late tries for Samoa also denied the visitors a losing bonus point.


Fiji vs Japan


Eroni Mawi, Sam Matavesi, Manasa Saulo, Albert Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Semi Kunatani, Viliame Mata, Frank Lomani, Ben Volavola, Patrick Osbourne, Levani Botia, Waisea Nayacalevu, Filipo Nakosi, Alivereti Veitokani. Reserves: Mesulame Dolokoto, Peni Ravai, Lee-Roy Atalifo, Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, Peceli Yato, Henry Seniloli, Jale Vatubua, Josh Matavesi.



Tonga vs Samoa


 Paea Fa’anunu, Elvis Taione, Ben Tameifuna, Leva Fifita, Sam Lousi*, Onehunga Havili, Maama Vaipulu, Nasi Manu (c), Samisoni Fisilau, James Faiva*, Viliame Lolohea, Cooper Vuna, Malietoa Hingano*, David Halaifonua, Nafi Tuitavake. Reserves: Sefo Sakalia, Toma Taufa*, Ma’afu Fia, Zane Kapeli, Fotu Lokotui, Sione Vailanu, Leon Fukofuka, Otumaka Mausia*.



USA vs Canada


Chance Wenglewski Rugby ATL,  Dylan Fawsitt, Rugby United New York,  Paul Mullen, Houston SaberCats, Ben Landry, Ealing Trailfinders,  Nick Civetta, Unattached,  Malon Al-Jiboori, Glendale Raptors,  John Quill, Rugby United New York,  Cam Dolan, NOLA Gold,  Shaun Davies, Glendale Raptors,  AJ MacGinty, Sale Sharks,  Martin Iosefo, USA Sevens,  Bryce Campbell, London Irish,  Marcel Brache, Western Force, Blaine Scully, Unattached,  Will Hooley, Bedford Blues. Reserves: Kapeli Pifeleti, San Diego Legion, David Ainuu, Toulouse Rugby, Paddy Ryan, Rugby United New York,  Greg Peterson, Newcastle Falcons, Jamason Fa’anana-Schultz, Houston SaberCats, Ruben de Haas, Free State Cheetahs, Gannon Moore, Utah Warriors,  Madison Hughes, USA Sevens


Hubert Buydens, Benoit Piffero, Cole Keith, Evan Olmstead, Conor Keys, Kyle Baillie, Matt Heaton, Tyler Ardron, Phil Mack, Peter Nelson, Dth van der Merwe, Ciaran Hearn, Ben leSage, Conor Trainor, Patrick Parfrey. Reserves: Andrew Quattrin, Rob Brouwer, Jake Ilnicki, Justin Blanchet, Luke Campbell, Gordon McRorie, Shane O’Leary, Nick Blevins


Saturday July 27. All times AEST

12pm - Tonga vs Samoa

3:50pm - Fiji vs Japan

Sunday July 28

10am - USA vs Canada