On only the fourth day of the new Japanese “Reiwa” Era the U20s final day was upon us. In slight overcast conditions the Japanese took on Fiji at 5pm. Perched up in the Bond University stands with World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper, we were treated to a fast entertaining match to open the final day of proceedings of the 8-day Oceania Rugby U20’s Championships on the Gold Coast. Despite a distinct size difference, the Japanese were tenacious matching the Fijians to hold them to a one-point lead, 28-27, by the halftime hooter, with their scrum a dominant feature of the half. This scrum ascendancy wreaked havoc shortly into the second stanza garnishing an early penalty for Japan to re-take the lead, 30-28, before eventually succumbing to the South-Pacific Islanders to go down 59-37 by the end of the 80 minutes in a high scoring encounter.
The strong crowd of 2000+ were spellbound by the pace of the first match of the evening with the Japanese captain, Shota Fukui, showing why he is a part of the Robbie Deans coached Panasonic Wild Knights by scoring in the 6th minute off a line-out drive 5 meters out, and mercurial fly-half Rintaro Maruyama’s conversion had the men in red & white taking the early lead 7-0 over their more fancied Pacific Island counterparts. Not to be outdone, two minutes later smart Fijian halfback, Josh Akariva Isaiah Vutu, was in under the posts after taking a quick penalty tap to equalise the score at 7-all. By the 13th minute Fiji was in again with inside-centre, Ilaisa Droasese, stepping through the bamboozled Japanese back-line to cross the paint putting Fiji ahead, for the first time in the match, 14-7. However, the dominate Japanese scrum forced a pushover try to impressive Japanese No. 8, Takamasa Maruo, and this dominance continued for ever present Captain Fukui to bag a double to see the Rising Sun team back in the lead, 19-14, halfway through the first stanza. Two tries to Fiji flanker, Vilive Miramira, which were both converted put them in a commanding position at 28-19; not before Maruo made a break off a Fijian mistake on attack from his own side of halfway and showing a clean pair of heels, raced 60 meters for his double on the stroke of halftime to take his team to the sheds down only 28-27.
Only a few minutes into the second half, the Japanese scrum ascendancy forced Fiji to transgress on their feed as the No. 8, Aminaisi Tiritabua Shaw, was stood up, allowing Japan’s No. 10, Maruyama, to slot the penalty goal from 35 meters out to put Japan ahead 30-28. Despite the fearless Japanese defence and their scrum superiority, the Fijians ran in four unanswered tries, firstly through speedy fullback Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu in the 51st minute followed by both wingers, including a double to Osea Joji Natoga, to stamp their mark on the match going ahead 52-30 with only 10 minutes left on the clock. Japan’s industrious No. 8, Maruo, was not finished troubling the scorers with his hat-trick try from a quick thinking tap in the 73rd minute, combined with Maruyama’s successful conversion the score read 52-37. The coup de grâce came two minutes later with replacement Fijian hooker, Lino Mairara Vasuinadi, powering over. Final score 59-37. A very high scoring and exhilarating display that bodes well for the World Rugby U20 Championships in Argentina next month, June 4th~22nd.
“It feels really good. We came out a bit slow today, but then eventually we overcame (this) and we did the little things right. And the scoreboard tells it all.”
Fiji Captain, Tevita Ikanivere, after the match.
Japan U20s captain, Shota Fukui, was obviously upset by the valiant effort shown by his team and said, “I’m disappointed (of the loss), due to all the support we are receiving from people back in Japan.”