Japan stun Azzurri in Tokyo
Japan extended their record winning streak to 10 games with a nail-biting 26-23 victory over Italy on Saturday.
Japan's forwards put in a dynamic performance as the Asian champions extended their record winning streak to 10 games with a nail-biting 26-23 victory over Italy on Saturday.
Male Sau's bulldozing try on the hour mark ultimately proved the difference for Japan but the home side had to survive a nervous finish before recording their first win in six meetings with the Azzurri.
"The great thing today was we won," Japan coach Eddie Jones told reporters. "We didn't play well but it's a testament to the guys that we're beginning to win when things are not going well for us."
Japan struggled in the line-outs but they punched above their weight in the scrums, while Italy coach Jacques Brunel slammed his butter-fingered players as the Six Nations side lost their ninth game in a row.
"We made way too many mistakes," fumed the Frenchman. "We gave away too many penalties and committed 12 turnovers - you can't beat a team like Japan if you play like that."
Japan are now set to break into the world's top 10 for the first time, but Jones insisted all that mattered was next year's World Cup.
"That's all I'm worried about," said the former Australia coach. "We've got to keep winning but we've got to win at the World Cup.
"It's no use winning up to the World Cup and not winning once you get there - like the (Japan) soccer team," added Jones, acutely aware that Japan have won just once at rugby's showcase tournament, against Zimbabwe in 1991.
"I want to make the quarterfinals of the World Cup and become the most popular sports team in Japan. There's no reason why we can't."
Japan are drawn in Pool B at the World Cup in England, alongside South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and the United States.
They disappointed at the 2011 World Cup under former All Black John Kirwan, beaten by hosts New Zealand, France and Tonga before drawing 23-23 with Canada.
Fullback Ayumu Goromaru kicked 16 points for the Japanese, who came into the game boosted by a 37-29 away victory over World Cup opponents the United States last weekend.
Akihito Yamada's fifth-minute try gave Japan the early initiative until a penalty try awarded after the winger's knock-on gave Italy a foothold, the first half ending 13-13.
Italy's resistance appeared to crack when Sau crashed over following sustained Japanese pressure in the 60th minute, but a breakaway try from Robert Barbieri made for a cliff-hanging final five minutes.
"It was a hard day at the office," said Jones. "But the scrum held up very well. To beat them today was a wonderful step for the team but we're a long way from where we want to be.
"But we don't have to be at our best until the World Cup. Test rugby is never perfect rugby. It's just about winning."
Italy captain Quintin Geldenhuys paid tribute to Japan.
"All credit to them," said the hulking lock. "They are a completely different team from the one we played three years ago. They've improved a lot in all phases. Now they're playing in the men's league."
Tries: Yamada, Sa'u
Cons: Goromaru 2
Pens: Goromaru 4
Tries: Penalty Try, Barbieri
Cons: Orquera, Allan
Pens: Orquera 2
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sa'u, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Justin Ives, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Shoji Ito, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Hisateru Hirashima, 17 Takeshi Kizu, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Hitoshi Ono, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Toshiaki Hirosi.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (captain), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)