Japan continue winning ways against Tonga

Japan stretched their Pacific Nations Cup winning streak against Tonga in a tight 21-19 victory after a last-minute Tongan conversion attempt went astray on Saturday.


Tonga scored three tries to two, including winger Tevita Halaifonua’s finish in the corner from a rare sweeping backline movement in the final minutes, but his own conversion attempt was wide, to the relief of the Japanese.


Japan’s win, their first from three matches in the five-nation tournament, lifts them off the bottom of the Pacific Nations Cup table above Tonga, still to record a victory after their three games.


Japan have beaten Tonga in three straight encounters in the Pacific Nations Cup, providing their only wins in the four-year history of the tournament.


Their win was a close-run thing in the end, but reflected a two-thirds dominance of territory and a strong performance by the forwards, who dominated the lineouts and breakdowns.


They were supported by a backline led by the tactical nous of flyhalf James Arlidge and incisive running of inside centre Ryan Nicholas.


The physical Tongans had the best of the first 20 minutes of the match, outmuscling their leaner opponents.


Lock Samiu Ika set up the first try midway through the spell after charging down a Japanese kick, setting up an attack ending in a try to inside centre Joseph Vaka, one of the standout players for Tonga.


But Japan’s greater speed and precision saw them gain dominance through the second quarter.


Fullback Shaun Webb scored tries in the 22nd and 33rd minutes as the Japanese forwards turned over some vital ball at the breakdown and through handling errors.


After Japan went into the second spell with a 15-7 lead, Tonga restored some continuity to push into Japanese territory.


But their try five minutes into the half was due to some individual brilliance from hooker Ilaisa Ma’asi, who sold a dummy pass to shake off the last defender in a 35-metre charge to the line.


The converted try brought Tonga to within just one point of Japan before Arlidge took over the kicking duties for Japan from the wayward Nicholas and extended the lead to four points midway through the spell.


In the end, the boot made the difference on the scoreboard, with a penalty by Nicholas and two from Arlidge ensuring the win.

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