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Late-game Matsushima tackle ensures Japan hold on to beat Tonga

By RugbyPass
(Photo by Paul Miller/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan have bounced back from last weekend’s defeat to Samoa by beating Tonga 21-16 in Osaka. The 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists got preparation for the upcoming finals in France off to a dubious start in Sapporo, a red card for Michael Leitch not helping in their 22-24 opening match loss.


Leitch was banned on Thursday for three matches, a punishment that will be cut to two if he successfully completes tackle school. In the meantime, an XV showing six changes picked up the pieces versus the Tongans to grab what was Japan’s first Test match win since a June 2022 victory over Uruguay.

Ahead of opening their campaign in France with a September 10 encounter with Chile in Toulouse that will be followed seven days later with a clash against England in Nice, Japan produced an improved warm-up display that featured tries from Jone Naikabula, Amato Fakatava and Semisi Masirewa against a Tonga outfit that had tries from Sonatane Takalua and Samiuela Moli.

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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan

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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan

The Pacific islanders had more of the first half possession, enjoying 65 per cent of the ball, but Japan led 13-5 at the break.

Tonga twice cut that margin to two points in the second half but they couldn’t grab the converted score at the finish that would have given them the win, Kotaro Matsushima producing a try-saving tackle in the final moments.

Japan will now wrap up their home-based match preparations with a game next weekend in Tokyo versus Fiji, who have beaten Tonga and Samoa in recent weeks. Next up for the Tongans is a trip to Apia to play the Samoans.

The Brave Blossoms wrap up their Pacific campaign next weekend in Tokyo when they play Fiji, who beat Samoa 33-19 in Apia earlier in the day.


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Shaylen 7 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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