Tokyo - Kotaro Matsushima scored two tries as Japan beat Fiji 34-21 in a confidence-boosting win ahead of their home Rugby World Cup.
The Brave Blossoms bagged five tries to Fiji's three in their opening
match of the Pacific Nations Cup Saturday, 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
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," flyhalf 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 Tonga, 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.
Manu, who was cleared of testicular cancer only 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 out of the tournament.
Torrential rain before kick-off reduced Apia Park to a quagmire which
affected the game as a spectacle despite a willingness by both sides to
throw the ball around.
Samoa dominated possession and territory but were kept 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 the debutant Amosa 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.
Elsewhere, the USA kicked off their Pacific Nations Cup account with a
47-19 rout of Canada in front of a standing room only crowd at Infinity
Park in Glendale, Colorado.
AJ MacGinty was good on the touchline conversion in the first half and the Eagles led 14-0.
Moments later, Phil Mack was dinged for offside and MacGinty launched
another kick from 45 metres to make it 17-0 and the beating was on. The
US then led 20-0 at the half.
The Americans didn't let up in the second half with the subs on.
Hooker Kapeli Pifeleti got over the line and touched down in the right
place to make it 40-7.