Paris - Japan
held France to a 23-23 draw in their final November international at U
Arena in Paris on Saturday, with the hosts lucky to avoid a sixth
Jamie Joseph's Japan dominated for much of the game and outscored
their opponents by three tries to two, but fly-half Yu Tamura missed a
simple late conversion that would have sealed a famous win.
"We are very happy with this tour, with a win (over Tonga) and a draw," said former All Black Joseph.
"But we are disappointed with this draw, we thought we could win and you could see that in the way we played."
In the first international at the newly-opened venue and its
artificial pitch, Japan could have won the game after Asaeli Ai Valu
crossed in the 74th minute, but Tamura let France and their coach Guy
Noves off the hook.
"We are all disappointed because we played a catastrophic match," French captain Guilhem Guirado said.
Noves had responded to last week's 18-17 loss to South Africa, their
13th in just 21 matches under Noves, by replacing six of the backs that
started that game, while flank Sekou Macalou and wing Gabriel Lacroix
were handed debuts.
"There's a lot of work ahead of us and I feel like we're losing
confidence, which is having a major impact on our game," admitted Noves.
Joseph made just one alteration to his Japan team that beat Tonga
39-6, with Yutaka Nagare taking the place of Fumiaki Tanaka at
Japan started brightly, pushing France back, and struck first as flyhalf Tamara slotted over a penalty.
After twice giving away possession with handling errors, France were
forced into some fierce defence on their own line after an excellent
break by Japan captain Michael Leitch, before breaking the shackles and
levelling the scores through a long-range Francois Trinh-Duc penalty.
The hosts should have scored the opening try after a sweeping move
that took them from one end of the pitch to the other, but Macalou
fumbled at the line and the visiting defence held firm.
But Japan continued to be the better side and scored the opening try
their enterprising play deserved when hooker Shota Horie dived over in
the corner, although Tamura missed the tricky conversion.
The hosts almost hit back immediately, but Lacroix was unable to
touch down before being bundled into touch, while the home crowd jeered
in disgust when Trinh-Duc opted to kick a penalty for the posts instead
of the corner as he cut the gap to two points.
With 90 seconds until the interval, the flyhalf did kick a penalty
for the corner, and it paid off, with sustained pressure leading to
Clermont prop Slimani barrelling over.
Trinh-Duc added the extras to put a flat home side five points to the good at the interval.
But Japan flew
out of the blocks in the second period, with centre Timothy Lafaele
barging through the hapless France defence to touch down and Tamura's
simple conversion edged the tourists ahead.
A third Japanese try almost followed, but Kazuki Himeno was denied by a forward pass in the build-up.
France hit back again, though, with La Rochelle's Lacroix scoring a
debut try from a long cross-field kick by Trinh-Duc, who successfully
Noves' side were still spending most of the second half camped inside
their own 22, but survived a flurry of Japan five-metre lineouts.
Japan were given a further boost when Lacroix was sin-binned for tackling Tamura in the air.
Tamura and Trinh-Duc traded penalties to leave the game still finely
balanced heading into the final 10 minutes, and the Brave Blossoms
finally grabbed their third try as replacement prop Ai Valu cleverly
took the ball from a ruck to score.
But Tamura missed the simplest of conversions when he should have
given Japan only a second win over a Tier-One nation, after their famous
34-32 victory against South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.