Junior Japan put the disappointment of three consecutive runners-up
finishes behind them to beat four-time reigning champions Fiji Warriors
21-12 and claim their first World Rugby Pacific Challenge title in Suva
It brought to an end the Warriors’ incredible 15-match winning run in the competition that has served as a key part in the development pathway in both Oceania and Asia and left them four points clear at the top of the table.
Meanwhile, in the first match of the day, Tonga A celebrated their first win of the tournament after a 36-10 victory over Pacific rivals Samoa A.
Fielding five of the side that helped to bring home the World Rugby
U20 Trophy title in Brazil last July, Junior Japan had players in their
ranks who knew what it took to win on the big occasion. However, it was
two players who narrowly missed out on selection for that tournament who
proved to be key to Junior Japan finally wrestling the Pacific
Challenge silverware from the Fiji Warriors.
Winger Haruto Kida
scored a try in each half, doubling his overall tally for the tournament
in the process, and influential fly-half Rintaro Maruyama kicked three
penalties and a conversion in a match that was far tighter than last
year’s 66-24 win to the Warriors.
The home side’s bid for a fifth
consecutive title got off to a good start, though, centre Epeli Momo
scoring a try with the game only three minutes old. Scrum-half Simi
Kuruvoli added the conversion.
Not long after, Maruyama clawed
three points back from the kicking tee before Junior Japan took the lead
in the 17th minute through the first of Kida’s tries.
It was a lead they would never relinquish and one they improved on the stroke of half-time when Maruyama bisected the posts again.
Stirred into action, the Warriors upped their game after the break
and were rewarded with a try for captain and fly-half Tuidraki
Samusamuvodre in the 46th minute. With Kuruvoli missing the conversion,
the Warriors still trailed by two points.
An uncustomary lack of
accuracy in attack prevented the Fijians converting more pressure into
points and Kida’s second try and Maruyama’s conversion put Junior Japan
two scores ahead at 21-12.
A scoreless final half an hour followed and Junior Japan were left to celebrate after creating a piece of history.
Junior Japan centre Seungshin Lee said: “Our aim when we started from
the camp back in Japan, was to create one team and to play as one rugby
team. We played well against Samoa and Tonga so we believed if we keep
playing our rugby we’ll win this game.”
coach Yoshitake Mizuma said: “Yes, Fiji was tough, very tough, but they
gave us the opportunity to improve. We are happy to be the first-ever
Japan team to win the World Rugby Pacific Challenge.”
Warriors captain Tuidraki Samusamuvodre said: “It wasn’t the result we
wanted. We lost a lot of balls and made a lot of errors and that cost
us. But it was a great effort from the boys; it is what it is.”