Japan eye Pacific Nations Cup as Kazakhs shine

Japan switched attention Monday to the Pacific Nations Cup after easily winning the Asian Five Nations, a tournament that saw Kazakhstan step up a level to upset South Korea and Hong Kong.

Singapore, meanwhile, were relegated to Division One with the Arabian Gulf taking their place next year.

Set up to develop the standard of rugby in Asia, the tournament, played over five consecutive weekends, wrapped up Sunday evening with the Kazakhs overcoming Hong Kong in a rain-drenched Almaty 25-6.

It was their third victory in four matches, with the all-conquering Japan the only team to beat them, meaning they finished second ahead of the more-fancied South Korea and Hong Kong.

Minnows Singapore lost every game and will miss next year’s tournament, which acts as Asia’s qualification stage for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

On their form this year, Japan look almost certain to be the region’s sole direct entrant to the New Zealand competition, with the runner-up entering a play-off process.

Japan coach John Kirwan, who fielded a weakened team against Singapore, is not looking that far ahead, with the Pacific Nations Cup in June his next focus.

Despite beating Singapore 45-15, he was not happy with the way his team performed and warned they needed to tighten up against Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Junior All Blacks.

“We didn’t perform well but a win is a win,” he said.

“Next up is the Pacific Nations Cup, which we are looking forward to, but we need to be much tougher and will need to step up.”

Japan captain Takashi Kikutani added that the team needed to make adjustments and learn how to change tactics during the course of a game.

“There were times out there when we self-destructed,” he said of the Singapore game.

“That’s something we need to accept honestly and learn from and take to the next games.” Japan now head to Australia for a training camp before playing Queensland in Brisbane on June 10.

The Brave Blossoms then make their way to Fiji, where the Pacific Nations Cup is being held, opening their campaign on June 18 against Samoa.

While South Korea and Hong Kong will be disappointed, Kazakhstan’s performance this year delighted captain Timur Mashurov and instilled belief that his team have a chance of making the 2011 World Cup.

“The win (over Hong Kong) is going to be a great boost for rugby in Kazakhstan,” he said.

“We are really happy to win in front of our home crowd but we know we have to do it again next year if we want to go to the Rugby World Cup in 2011.”

Kazakhstan finished the inaugural Asian tournament fourth last year.


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