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Rugby: Japan charge into final showdown in Junior World Trophy

Captain Rikiya Matsuda on the run as Japan beat Canada to book a place in the final of the IRB Junior World Trophy in Hong Kong.

Captain Rikiya Matsuda on the run as Japan beat Canada to top Pool B in the Junior World Trophy in Hong Kong.

April 15, 2014: Asian champions Japan crushed second seeds Canada 37-12 in the final group match of the IRB Junior World Trophy in Hong Kong to top Pool B and book a place in Saturday’s final against surprise Pool A winners Tonga.


The winner of the eight-team tournament at Hong Kong Football Club will earn a berth at next year’s IRB Junior World Championship in Italy. Tough-tackling Tonga knocked out top seeds United States with a thrilling 28-22 victory in the final Pool A match.


Both Japan and Tonga had to work hard to reach the final, after both teams lost their opening match of the tournament. Japan’s task on Tuesday night was clear cut – to defeat Canada and top the pool.


Japan head coach Keisuke Sawaki was delighted with his side’s performance, which included tries by winger Shuhei Narita, outside centre Keisuke Moriya, hooker Shunta Nakamura, fullback Seiya Ozaki, No. 8 Sota Oketani and prop Kosuke Horikoshi.


“The players did their job well today, this is the way they are supposed to play,” Sawaki said. “We outplayed Canada physically and if we continue to play our brand of rugby, Japan rugby, I don’t fear Tonga in the final.”


Uruguay held on to defeat Namibia 16-13 in the earlier Pool B encounter, having led 9-6 at halftime. Three penalties from the boot of flyhalf Manuel Blengio kept Uruguay’s noses in front at the break, with the only answer from their opponents being two penalties from flyhalf Chris Arries.


Hooker German Kessler scored early in the second half to stretch Uruguay’s lead to 16-6 before impressive No. 8 Wian Conradie touched down 10 minutes from the end to give the Africans hope that they could finish on top of the pool.


Uruguay would have progressed to the final if Japan had lost, so the South American players stayed behind after their match to cheer on Canada, although their spirits dampened early in the second half as Japan stretched out from their 13-5 halftime lead.


Pool A

Tonga scored two tries in each half to collect the requisite four tries needed to give them an invaluable bonus point which pushed them to 10 points, equal with the US who also collected a bonus point for finishing within a seven-point loss margin. However, the Pacific Islanders topped the pool on the head-to-head result.


The match ended in some confusion with the American players thinking they had done enough to secure a final berth – believing a superior point differential would see them through – but they were crestfallen to discover it was Tonga who would go through.


Tonga head coach Feao Vunipola said: “Praise to God for giving us this victory. Our defence was rock-solid and our fitness was superb, and these were the two key ingredients behind the win.”


Scrumhalf Siaosi Tonga scored the first try for Tonga before Patelisio Oneone, who began the game at flyhalf but then switched to scrumhalf after an early injury to Siaosi Tonga, maintained the pressure. Fullback Jarom Halo and substitute prop Haini Moala also touched down.


It was a remarkable turnaround for Tonga, the fourth seeds, who began the competition losing 34-10 to Georgia, but then bounced back by hammering hosts Hong Kong 39-16 before inflicting the first loss on the US.


“We started the tournament slowly and our fitness was lacking in that first game, but we have kept on improving and today everything fell into place, especially our defence which was the key,” Vunipola said. “The US was ranked number one, but I felt they played their final last week when they met Georgia, who they thought was the team to beat in our pool. We came in as the underdogs.”


Moala’s try in the 67th minute ushered in high-fives and celebrations among the Tongan players and bench as they clinched the valuable bonus point. But their opponents did not fold easily, with loosehead prop Titi Lamositele driving over for a try after a fluffed clearance had kept play inside the Tongan 22.


Cima converted to reduce the deficit and then added a penalty to make it 28-22 and the US thought they had done enough as they slowed play in the final stages of the match. The USA won the last ruck of the game and booted the ball out as soon as the clock reached fulltime, only to find out later that the head-to-head result counted first and not point differential in case of two teams being tied on the same number of points.


Relegated after finishing bottom at the last IRB Junior World Championship, the US had hoped to regain their spot in next year’s tournament, leaving head coach Bill Millard disappointed.


“It is very disappointing to go out in this fashion, but we couldn’t get any early rhythm into our game and we failed to control and protect that grey area – between the halfway and our 22. That cost us,” Millard said. “To be within touching distance and not go through to the final on Saturday is a huge disappointment.”


In the other Pool A match, Georgia defeated hosts Hong Kong 21-8 to finish third in the group. Fullback David Gulitashvili, No. 8 Vakhtang Amiranashvili and substitute winger Zhora Mgebrishvili scored for Georgia, while flanker Chris Maize grabbed Hong Kong’s solitary try.


IRB Junior World Trophy 2014, Hong Kong Football Club – Saturday, April 19

1.00pm: Seventh place playoff – Hong Kong v Canada

3.00pm: Fifth place playoff – Georgia v Namibia

5.00pm: Third place playoff – USA v Uruguay

7.00pm: Final – Tonga v Japan


Source: HKRFU

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