Tonga too strong for fiery Japan
Tonga claimed a tough 31-18 victory over Japan in a match that contrasted raw power with speed and a willingness to play attacking rugby.
Sixteen points from the boot of Tongan flyhalf Kurt Morath made the difference as Tonga broke Japanese hearts. Japan slumped to their 17th consecutive World Cup defeat and failed in their bid to win two games at this tournament.
A match of immense enthusiasm before 17 364 spectators up in the very north of New Zealand, up where the North Island's finger points north - sort of towards Tonga and Japan, this evening's contestants.
The scores were close on occasion but really it was not all that close a contest as the Tongans were so much better where it really mattered. They won the turnovers hands down, their handling was much better and in the first half they won the penalty count 8-4.
In the first six minutes of the first half, the Tongans had four penalties, four five-metre scrums and scored a try - six minutes for excitement for the Kale Tahi, six minutes of agony for the Brave Blossoms. Japan was lucky to come away from that with 15 players and just five points down.
Near the end of the half they lost flyhalf James Arlidge to the sin bin but the penalty count went the other way in the second half and Tonga had first Halani Aulika and then lock Tukulua Lokotui, who otherwise had a fine game, sent to the sin bin. Not that it was a nasty game, just overly enthusiastic.
No.8 Viliami Ma'afu, who plays for Mitsubishi in Japan, scored the first try when he burst over on the open side of a five-metre scrum. 5-0 after 6 minutes.
A good run by energetic Kosuke Endo was followed by a penalty for Japan, a five-metre line-out and a try - a controversial try. The referee asked the TMO for a reason not to award the try. The TMO could not see a reason and the try was awarded though it seemed clear that Kensuke Hatakeyama was tackled and then moved his body forward for the try - the same thing that Maurie Fa'asavalu of Samoa was penalised for when Samoa just lost to Wales. 5-5 after 13 minutes.
Tonga went straight back into the lead. Japan caught the kick-off but the Tongans caught the Japanese, the ball squirted out and Paino Hehea gave lock Lokotui a short pass and the big man rumbled off for a try in the left corner. This time Kurt Morath converted, in fact it was the start of a impeccable kicking henceforth in the game. 12-5 after 14 minutes.
The Japanese backs looked much the sharper and were hot on the attack when handling let them down and Piutau went racing down the filed with nobody in front of him and only Leitch in pursuit. Flank Leitch caught centre Piutau. The Tongans could still have scored but for Japan's determination.
After Hisateru Hirashima had won a rare turnover for Japan, Ryan Nicholas burst through on a telling break in midfield and then the ball went right where Leitch grabbed an inside pass and forced his way through three sturdy defenders to score. 12-10 after 26 minutes.
In the remaining minutes of the half Morath kicked two penalties, Arlidge headed for the sin bin and Shaun Webb goaled a penalty. 18-13 at half-time.
Arlidge was back for the second half and Tonga, who had two props on the bench, changed both props.
Leitch was back in action early in the half when Fetu'u Vainikolo counterattacked and looked certain score, but Leitch mowed him down and Hirotoki Onozawa intercepted an inside pass.
Morath kicked a penalty and then when Arlidge kicked downfield Vainikolo started a counterattack. Morath chipped and gathered and then regathered and sent Vainikolo over far out. 28-13 after 55 minutes.
When Aulika was in the sin bin, Japan attacked . They mauled from a five-metre line-out but the TMO said they were held up. That gave them a five-metre scrum and Alisi Tupuailai switched with Arlidge and beat two defenders to score. Arlidge missed the easy conversion. 28-18 after 63 minutes.
Morath kicked a penalty with 14 minutes to play and Japan attacked over and over again, getting close but not over as the Tongans defended resolutely.
Man of the Match: Ryan Nicholas did some good work in Japan's midfield, while Taniela Moa and Siale Piutau stood out in the Tongan backline. However, our vote goes to Japan's openside flank Michael Leitch who scored an excellent try, completed a try saving tackle and was at the heart of everything his side did well.
Moment of the Match: Tonga wing Fetu'u Vainikolo scored a top class try by brushing off a couple of defenders and darted part a few would-be tacklers to score the try that took the game away from Japan.
Villain of the Match: Three yellow cards in the match, although James Arlidge could fee hard done by for his time in the sin bin. Halani Aulika and Tukulua Lokotui committed bad fouls in their effort to hold off the Japanese attack and could have cost their team the match.
Tries: Ma'afu, Lokotui, Vainikolo
Cons: Morath 2
Pens: Morath 4
Tries: Hatakeyama, Leitch, Tupuailai
Tonga: 15 Vungakoto Lilo, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Alipate Fatafehi, 11 Sukanaivalu Hufanga, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Sione Vaiomo'unga, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Paino Hehea, 4 Tukulua Lokotui, 3 Taufa'ao Filise, 2 Aleki Lutui (captain), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Aloisio Ma'asi, 17 Alisona Taumalolo, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Joseph Tu'ineau, 20 Samiu Vahafolau, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Andrew Ma'ilei.
Japan: 15 Shaun Webb, 14 Kosuke Endo, 13 Alisi Tupuailai, 12 Ryan Nicholas, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 James Arlidge, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Takashi Kikutani (captain), 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Itaru Taniguchi, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Hisateru Hirashima.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Aoki, 17 Nozomu Fujita, 18 Hitoshi Ono, 19 Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, 20 Atsushi Hiwasa, 21 Takehisa Usuzuki, 22 Murray Williams.
AFP and rugby365.com