Japan triumph over USA in Pacific Nations Cup final
Suva (Fiji) (AFP)
Japan captain Michael Leitch bagged two tries as the enterprising Brave Blossoms celebrated their return to the Pacific Nations Cup with a 34-20 win over the United States in Saturday's final.
Victory in the tournament, which this year serves as a crucial shake down for six Pacific rim counties ahead of the World Cup, put Japan ahead of Fiji in the World rankings and into the top 10.
It was their third Pacific crown after winning in 2011 and sharing the title with Samoa in 2014, and the win came after a three-year absence from the tournament.
Japan's set piece steadily improved through the competition and in the final they added a variety of moves in general play to counter the size dominance of the larger Americans.
Their first try, to Leitch, came after an 11-man lineout drive and they followed by cutting through the US defence with a series of short snap passes, until a gap appeared for Kenki Fukuoka to race through and score.
Fly-half Yu Tamura was on target with his kicking, landing both conversions and a penalty to have Japan 17-0 ahead after 11 minutes.
They then faced a strong fightback which saw a try deom sevens star Madison Hughes and a conversion by Will Hooley, who also added a penalty while deputising for injured regular kicker AJ McGinty.
Tamura and Hooley traded penalties in the final minutes of the half for Japan to turn 20-13 ahead.
Japan made another explosive start to the second half with an inside pass from Tamura sending Ryohei Yamanaka over.
Fukuoka then latched on to a wayward American kick on the Japan 22 to spark a counter-attack that swept 80 metres, with Leitch on hand at the finish to score his second try.
The introduction of replacement forwards worked to the USA's advantage, with a superior scrum resulting in a late try to Hanco Germishuys.
© 2019 AFP