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Rugby: Japan pull off big win over Italy

An inspired performance from Kenki Fukuoka propelled the Brave Blossoms to a 34-17 win over Italy on Saturday.

In front of an announced 25,824 at Oita Bank Dome — though the stadium looked considerably fuller — the flying Japan wing scored one try, helped create another and defended heroically as Jamie Joseph’s side showed their Rugby World Cup preparations are well on track.

Flyhalf Yu Tamura weighed in with a good kicking performance while flanker Kazuki Himeno was in the thick of things up front as Japan picked up their second straight win over Italy following five losses.

“The team have worked very hard the last two years to get to a test match of this level and caliber and perform that way,” said Joseph. “It was a real mental game in the second half and I was very pleased with that part of the performance.”

And of the three standout players, he said, “Fukuoka played well and executed some things very well before he tired in the second half but came back again. I thought Tamura controlled the game well and there were a couple of moments there when his decision making was outstanding. And Himeno goes from strength to strength.”

His Italian counterpart, Conor O’Shea, meanwhile, was left to rue what might have been.

“Our biggest issue is we need to finish,” the former Ireland fullback said, adding that a number of missed opportunities allowed the momentum to swing Japan’s way. “We did some good things but let ourselves down.”

With the roof closed at the ground that will host five World Cup games next year, neither kicker had to worry about the elements and put boot to ball numerous times in the early exchanges.

An early line-out steal and some solid defense, with Fukuoka to the fore, saw Japan start brightly.

But it was the visitors who scored first when Tiziano Pasquali beat Wimpie van der Walt to the ball in the 15th minute following a kick ahead by Tomasso Allan that caught the Japan defense napping.

The Brave Blossoms responded immediately, however, when Fukuoka and Michael Leitch combined to put Amanaki Lelei Mafi over before Fukuoka gave Japan the lead, using his searing pace to skin the Italian defense in the 28th minute.

“My teammates set that up, and I saw the space so I went for it. It’s a product of our quality practice,” said Fukuoka.

Tamura added the extras and then kicked a penalty in the 34th minute as Japan stretched their lead, only for Italy to hit back just before the break through Abraham Jurgens Steyn as the teams turned around with Japan 17-14 up.

Joseph introduced Yutaka Nagare into the fray eight minutes after the restart in the hope of speeding things up as the humidity started to take its toll.

But it was Italy who scored the first points of the second stanza when Allan banged over a penalty in the 51st minute, only for Tamura to restore Japan’s lead five minutes later.

Lomana Lava Lemeki then put 10 points between the sides when a kick pass from Tamura and a well-timed catch and offload from Shota Horie put the Japan wing over in the corner.

Kotaro Matsushima followed Lemeki onto the scoresheet in the 67th minute following another good kick ahead from Tamura, who added the extras as Japan sealed the win in emphatic fashion.

“We were able to execute the way we practiced. We were conscious of their kicking game and we handled that aspect well,” said Matsushima, who wants no let up when the two teams meet again next Saturday in Kobe.

“We’ve prepared well since last week so that we could win consecutive games, so this is just a start. We have to keep going.”

All – Kyodo News+

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