07 May 2016

Japan beat Hong Kong 38-3 tonight to maintain their perfect record in the second round of the Asia Rugby Championship 2016.

Fielding a largely unchanged side from that which opened the Championship with an 85-0 win over South Korea last weekend, Japan rolled on to a six-try rout of Hong Kong to claim their first away win of the tournament.

Japan opened the scoring in the fifth minute after flanker Shokei Kin capped off a steady build-up for the Brave Blossoms, who employed a methodical mixture of penalties and well-retained line-out possession to drive deep into Hong Kong territory. Fly-half Ryohei Yamanaka coolly slotted the conversion, his first of four on the day, to put Japan ahead 7-0.

Six minutes later it was livewire scrum-half and captain Keisuke Uchida who found space for the visitors after dancing through Hong Kong’s first line of defence from the back of the scrum. With a 10-metre head start on fullback Alex McQueen, Uchida turned on the afterburners to cross over for Japan’s second try. Yamanaka’s conversion from the left side was unsuccessful.

It was a tough start for the hosts and coach Leigh Jones, who had repeatedly stressed the importance of getting a jump on the opposition early on. Despite falling behind quickly, Hong Kong re-grouped well and off the restart, No.8 Dan Falvey bounced several Japanese defenders off with a charging 15-metre run before offloading to McQueen who perfectly timed his entry into the line and showed some great stepping of his own as he nearly broke Japan’s defensive pattern. Under pressure, Japan conceded the penalty after playing the ball in the ruck and fly-half Ben Rimene slotted the kick from 22-metres out to put Hong Kong on the board 12-3 in the 15th minute.

The remainder of the half was evenly contested for the most part, but another nice individual effort by Japan’s backs, this time from winger Kentaro Kodama, who tiptoed through some flailing Hong Kong tackles along the touchline to miraculously emerge with the ball and race away for Japan’s third try of the half. Yamanaka’s conversion gave Japan a 19-3 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the half.

Neither side could add to their totals for the rest of the half buy despite the occasional defensive lapses, Hong Kong looked in good shape at the break.

Both teams played each other to a standstill in the third quarter before Japan’s first scoring opportunity came in the home-stretch after Hong Kong had turned to its reserves bench, making three changes in the 52rd minute – two in the backs and the third in the forwards.

Japan took advantage of the momentary disruption in Hong Kong’s defensive line with No.8 Tevita Tatafu popping up in possession on the left wing before crashing his way nearly to the try-line. Hong Kong stopped Tatafu’s charge but not before the off-load to centre Ryoko Nakamura who scored the visitors’ fourth try in the 55th minute. Yamanaka’s conversion put Japan up 26-3.

Japan then used its own reserves to good effect with Hiroki Yamamoto coming on for Tatufa a minute later and going on to collect two close-in tries in the 63rd minute (converted by Yamanaka) and the 76th minute (conversion unsuccessful) to put the visitors clear 38-3.

“It was a much harder test for us today than against South Korea”, said interim Japan coach Ryuji Nakatake. “Hong Kong put a lot of pressure on us at the breakdown and we conceded a few too many penalties, which is something we will need to work on, but I’m happy with the score especially to not have conceded a try for a second week running.”

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones was philosophical about the result saying, “Japan had too much power and pace and their ability to perform the skills under that level of intensity was better than ours. We need to continue to work at our set piece and our scrum has got to get better. We also need to work more on getting across the gain-line and putting a dent in their defence. On the odd occasion that we did that they looked reasonably vulnerable, but we just can’t do it often enough at the moment.

“But that’s our challenge. We’re six months into professionalism in our fifteens set-up and that's where we need to get to,” said Jones.