Kobe - Italy completed a nail-biting 25-22 away win over Japan on
Saturday to tie their two-Test series against the 2019 World Cup hosts.
The Italians attacked with real purpose in Kobe after being
humbled 34-17 by the Brave Blossoms last weekend, but needed two clutch
penalties from flyhalf Tommaso Allan to repel a furious late Japan fightback.
"It was our last game of the season so we're really
happy to finish like that," said Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini.
"We know exactly where we want to go - our target at
the World Cup is to qualify for the quarter-finals, but we have the Six Nations
before that and that's our focus."
Tommaso Benvenuti opened the scoring for Italy in the 19th
minute after a period of sustained early pressure, diving over in the corner
after good work from Marcello Violi.
A superb driving maul gave Ghiraldini the opportunity to
extend his side's lead before a Yu Tamura penalty reduced the deficit to 12-3
going into the halftime break.
When Jake Polledri added a converted try for the visitors
soon after the restart, the floodgates looked set to open with Japan's defence
But as tempers threatened to boil over after several
niggling fouls, Will Tupou and Amanaki Mafi crashed over the try line in quick
succession to haul the Japanese to within two points.
Allan slotted two late penalties and appeared to have
extinguished Japan's hopes of a comeback before Kotaro Matsushima's last-minute
try set up a nervous final few seconds.
"Both sides went at it furiously and showed a lot of
heart but obviously the result is a real disappointment," said Japan
captain Michael Leitch, whose side face Georgia in a one-off home Test next
"It was difficult to match their energy. They pushed us
back deeper and deeper, but there are a lot of things to learn from this
defeat. Georgia are a different team again we'll prepare carefully and be ready
Japan, once the whipping boys of the World Cup, won three
matches at the 2015 tournament under current England coach Eddie Jones,
including an astonishing 34-32 victory over two-time world champions South
Their form dipped after former All Black Jamie Joseph took
over in 2016 but the Japanese have shown improvement over the past year,
particularly in a 23-23 draw with France in Paris last November, a match they
should have won.