Japan shows World Cup potential in Pacific Nations Cup

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Japan caused the sensation of the 2015 Rugby World Cup when it beat South Africa in pool play and signaled its intention to be a danger for the top tier nations again this year with a 34-20 victory over the United State in Suva Saturday to win the Pacific Nations Cup.

“Our first goal was to win the PNC. The next goal is to go to the World Cup, play our Japan brand of rugby and make the top eight,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said.

Japan played with typical pace and flair, scoring four tries including a double to captain Michael Leitch. Leitch led a strong and physical forward pack and winger Kenji Fukuoka, who scored a superb try, was a stand-out in a skillful backline.

“I think it all came down to preparation,” Leitch said. “We’ve been together since February and all the hard work has paid off.

“I think we’re on the right track (for the World Cup). It was good performance. Our discipline let us down at times but we’re on the right track.”

Japan won all three of its matches in the Pacific Nations Cup, beating defending champion Fiji 34-21 and Tonga 41-7 before its showdown with the United States. The USA beat Canada 47-19 and Samoa 13-10 to reach the final but had to settle for second place, matching its best previous finish in the tournament.

Captain Blaine Scully said while the Eagles were disappointed with their performance in the final they feel the tournament has set them up well for the World Cup. Their world ranking rose one place during the tournament to 13.

Japan “played really well and they punished us for every mistake that we made,” Scully said. “As much as we’re disappointed by the result, this is very much about the process.”

Fiji beat Samoa 10-3 and Tonga beat Canada 33-23 in other matches in the weekend’s final round. Fiji matched the United States’ two win, one loss record while Tonga posted its first win in this season’s tournament and Canada finished without a win from three games.

Winger Vereniki Goneva became Fiji’s leading try-scorer in tests during Saturday’s match against Samoa. He scored his 21st test try in the 43rd minute to decide a tight contest against Fiji’s Pacific neighbor.

“We won a very physical arm wrestle today,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “It was a tough battle for us.

“Credit to Samoa, they put us under a lot of pressure and made us make errors.”


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