Winger Kenki Fukuoka scored a hat-trick in the re-match with South Korea. Photo: Kenji Demura | RJP
Japan coach Eddie Jones got the fast start he wanted as his side lifted up a gear to beat South Korea 66-10 in Round 4 of the Asia Rugby Championship at Fukuoka’s Level-5 Stadium.
Having struggled to play at any real pace in either of their two opening games, Japan put in a much more fluid performance with the forwards giving their speedy backs plenty of good ball.
Kenki Fukuoka marked his return to international rugby with a hat-trick of tries, while Karne Hesketh bagged a well-earned brace. There were also five pointers for Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Luke Thompson, Harumichi Tatekawa, Kensuke Hatakeyama and Ayumu Goromaru, who banged over eight conversions.
“Today was all about attitude,” said Jones. “Today the team were in their worst physical condition in three years in terms of fatigue and I am pleased they worked through it. We got a little tired 10 minutes after halftime but the reserves came on and did their job and lifted things again.”
Jegal Bin, who plays his rugby in Japan for NTT Communications Shining Arcs, crossed for South Korea's only try with Park Hang Yul adding a conversion and Oh Youn Hyung kicking a penalty.
“We knew Japan were a level above us and they had much better team work than when we last played them in round one. That and their defense made it really difficult for us,” said Korea coach Chung Hyung Suk.
Injury meant Fukuoka hadn't played for his country since June 2014, but he scored with his first touch following a great cross kick from Yu Tamura in the first minute.
The Koreans hit back 10 minutes later when Jegal intercepted a loose pass from Goromaru, but they were never able to repeat their heroics of three weeks ago when they led Japan halfway through the first half of the opening game of the competition.
Tatekawa finished off some free-flowing rugby in the 16th minute even though Japan were a man down with Goromaru in the sin bin for a late tackle, and the scoreboard kept on ticking over as Japan led 31-7 at the break.
Hesketh powered over in the 24th minute, Goromaru made up for his time in the naughty chair with a try in the 29th minute and Hatakeyama was on the end of a well-worked driving maul just a minute before the break.
With both coaches going to the bench, the second half started slowly before Japan's new combinations started to click, resulting in a further five tries, with Fukuoka showing his impressive speed to score the try of the half in the 64th minute.
“The attitude of the players was very good and we fought it out for the whole game,” said Hatakeyama, who led the side in the absence of Michael Leitch away on Super Rugby duties. “Considering how intense the training has been I think we played well and I am proud of our effort.”
The Koreans now need to regroup for next week's clash with Hong Kong that will determine second spot in the standings.
“We have to try and make the players forget this game and prepare for next week's match and hope that we play like we did two weeks ago,” said Chung. “We were aggressive today but it didn't last and we couldn't finish things off.”
Japan, meanwhile, are hoping to finish their campaign in style in two weeks’ time in Hong Kong.
“There were a lot of small mistakes today and while the scrum was working well we need to raise our level,” said Hatakeyama.
Japan captain Ai Tasaka in action against Kazakhstan. Photo: Kenji Demura | RJP
In the curtain-raiser, the Japan women’s team completed a superb 27-12 victory over Kazakhstan. Japan dominated the possession and territory stakes for large swathes of the match taking a 16-0 lead at the break after captain and fullback Ai Tasaka slotted two penalties in the opening quarter, followed by tries to winger Noriko Taniguchi and flanker Chisoto Yookoo.
Kazakhstan, the defending Asian champions, came storming back in the second half, notching their first try through towering centre Lyudmila Korotikh in the 42nd minute.
Tasaka pushed Japan’s lead to 19-5 with her third penalty moments later, but Kazakhstan were building momentum as their physicality began to wear down the Japan defence. The pack accounted for the visitors’ second try with hooker Yelena Yevdokimova crossing over in the corner.
Fullback Aigerym Daurembayeva’s impressive conversion from the touch line further lifted Kazakhstan as they closed in on a bonus point, trailing 19-12 with 10 minutes remaining.
But Japan’s Sakura XV, playing in front of a vocal home audience, were not to be denied, rallying to ruthlessly snuff out the Kazakh comeback with a try through winger Mizuki Honma in the 34th minute. Tasaka added her fourth penalty in the 39th minute to send Japan out winners 27-12.
The result keeps the Asia Rugby Women’s Championships alive into Round 3. Kazakhstan top the table on six points after their 40-0 win over Hong Kong in Almaty in Round 1. Japan are in second on five points with a game in hand on Kazakhstan.
Japan will travel to Hong Kong to play the hosts ahead of the Hong Kong v Japan men’s ARC match on 23 May.
Kazakhstan's Ildar Abdrazhakov wrestles with Singapore's Peter McFeely for the ball in the 3rd place play-off. Photo: Mark Cristino.
While the women’s team will be disappointed with conceding a rare loss against Asian opposition, the Kazakhstan men’s team marked the celebrations of Victory Day at home with a 32-12 win over Singapore to claim third in the Asia Rugby Championship Division I tournament in Philippines this afternoon.