Japan turned in a performance worthy of their first match at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium – built as part of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami post-disaster recovery effort – to hold off a second-half fightback from Fiji, a side they hadn’t beaten in eight years previously.
Japan’s 34-21 win will go down as an early marker for their World Cup 2019 campaign as the Fijians came into the Pacific Nations Cup opener as the title holders who had just shared a Test series with the Maori All Blacks.
The hosts were playing at the ground, which is one of 12 host venues for Japan 2019, for the first time and raced into an 8-0 lead as Kenki Fukuoka latched onto a Yu Tamura kick through, to add a try to the latter’s early penalty.
Fiji then came back into the contest and showcased their counter-attacking ability, Levani Botia rounding off a flowing team move to score a try that Ben Volavola converted. But from that moment Japan seized control.
— Rich Freeman (@FreemanrugbyJPN) July 27, 2019
Filipo Nakosi received a yellow card just before the half-hour mark, after which Kazuki Himeno touched down to secure the hosts a try-scoring bonus-point.
Japan lost debutant captain Lappies Labuschagne to injury before the break, and Fiji narrowed the half-time deficit to 29-14 as Sam Matavesi crashed over for his first try.
Matsushima scored his second try of the match to extend the hosts’ lead before Matavesi completed a brace of his own as the game ticked into its final quarter.
Bar a few nervous moments for Japan, the Pacific Islanders were unable to eat further into their lead as Jamie Joseph’s side held out for a resounding opening victory.
This year's Pacific Nations Cup is primed to be a belter of a tournament
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 26, 2019
“It was a great occasion, we really enjoyed the game. We made a few mistakes but overall we’re really excited, this was the first step and we look forward to the next game,” Japan captain Labuschagne said.
“We wanted to speed the game up and in the first half we played really well.”
– World Rugby
WATCH: The insightful RugbyPass documentary with Nemani Nadolo, the Fijian playing at Montpellier
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