Japan were phenomenal.
Coach Eddie Jones had called on his troops to learn from the 61-21 defeat suffered at Kobe, and it seems like a tough week of training produced the desired results. The home outfit featured six changes (five and one positional), with Keita Inagaki, Shinya Makabe, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Kosei Ono and Karne Hesketh came into the team tasked to showcase their wares.
Mafi and Hesketh in particular at number eight and wing respectively, brought a new level of determination to the contact area that was obvious from the off.
This is a growing nation, no longer Brave, but the Mighty Blossoms on this effort.
Colin Cooper made four alterations for the visiting Maori All Blacks, with Canterbury hooker Codie Taylor coming into the front row to replace Ash Dixon (arm fracture). Northland loose forward Pryor was having his first start of the tour, while Taranaki wing Kurt Baker and Manawatu’s Nehe Milner-Skudder gained tour starting berths. In the end it was a try by the Northland back row veteran from a quick line-out and a good break by Maori captain Charlie Ngatai three minutes from time broke the locals’ hearts and ensured the tourist’s winning streak against international opposition extends to 18 games.
The winning margin was in marked contrast to the game in Kobe seven days ago and was a reflection of the improved performance of the Brave Blossoms. From the opening kick-off Japan dominated possession and territory and were unlucky to not to take the lead when Ayumu Goromaru missed a relatively easy penalty and the TMO ruled obstruction in the build-up to a “try” by Keita Inagaki in the 12th minute.
When the Maori then scored two quick tries through Codie Taylor and Nehe Milner-Skudder, it looked like it could be another long day for Eddie Jones’ team. But the Brave Blossoms didn’t drop their heads and a try by Akihito Yamada just before the break saw the crowd come to life.
Japan started the second half as they finished the first and a penalty try from a scrum five metres out, converted by Goramaru saw them close to within three points. The Japan fullback then added two penalties in the 54th and 72nd minutes to give Japan an 18-15 lead and have the crowd thinking an historic victory was on the cards. But the Maori bounced back and a long infield pass, Ngatai’s break and offload and Pryor’s finish saw them steal the game at the death.
Japan play Romania to kick off their European tour.
Japan 18 Tries: Yamada, penalty try Cons: Goromaru Pens: Goromaru (2)
Maori All Blacks 20 Tries: Taylor, Milner-Skudder, Pryor Cons: West Pens: West
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Karne Hesketh, 13 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Male Sau, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Shinya Makabe, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki. Replacements: 16 Yusuke Nagae, 17 Hiroki Yuhara, 18 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Hayden Hopgood , 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
New Zealand Maori: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Charlie Ngatai (captain), 11 James Lowe, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 Sean Polwart, 6 Dan Pryor, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 MIke Kainga, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Chris Eves Replacements: 16 Joe Royal, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Mitch Crosswell, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Joe Webber