Brave Blossoms Bloom Then Fall To Earth
Japan Scores Five Tries But Fails To Halt All Black Onslaught
In a highly entertaining game at a packed Ajinomoto Stadium, Japan went down fighting 69-31 to an All Black team that was vastly different from the one that beat the Wallabies in last week’s Bledisloe Cup.
In terms of test caps, this was a very inexperienced New Zealand side. Luke Whitelock became the 70th All Black captain, leading a side that contained eight debutants; two in the starting lineup and six more in the reserves.
Head Coach, Steve Hansen said, ”There was a fair amount of risk going into this game but this group of players have done themselves proud. There’s a large group of them who may not play in the next 12 months for the All Blacks but they’ll certainly be involved in playing in the future because you saw some quality players on.”
High-tempo was the order of the day as both teams combined to score 15 tries, five of them by a Japanese side that was both inventive and persistent in attack, much to the delight of the 43,751 in attendance.
Center Timothy Lafaele picked up a brace for the home side, while for the All Blacks, powerful running mid-fielder Ngani Laumape scored a hat-trick and replacement winger George Bridge on his debut showed his pace, getting two tries.
For the visitors, flyhalf Richie Mo'unga controlled the show, kicking a penalty and seven conversions (from eight attempts) as well as adding a five-pointer for a personal tally of 22 points. First half turnovers hurt the Brave Blossoms allowing the All Blacks to take control and cross the line five times while the home side’s first two tries were scored off All Blacks mistakes.
Brave Blossoms’ Head Coach Jamie Joseph said, “First of all, I’m obviously disappointed with the loss but not disappointed with my team. I felt that the fact we scored five tries against the All Blacks is a sign that as a group we have improved. I was very proud of some of the things that we did in the game that we didn’t do last week. We’ve still got a long way to go before the World Cup, before we can get to a level where we can compete with the big teams.”
The New Zealanders started the first half strongly and opened the scoring with a Mo'unga penalty on the three minute mark. Moments later however Japan’s 198 cm tall lock Samuela Anise charged down a clearing kick by fullback Jordie Barrett and scampered over to score the first try of the match. Yu Tamura converted and Japan was up on the number one team in the world.
It took 14 minutes for the All Blacks to reply. Mo'unga got things rolling by sniping up the right flank and sending Nehe Milner-Skudder away before he was tackled 10m out. From the ensuing ruck Jackson Hemopo powered through the line and got the All Blacks to within five meters. A long pass found hooker Dane Coles waiting on the wing and he cantered over the line. Mo'unga made no mistake with the conversion and the All Blacks regained a lead that they would not relinquish again.
Five minutes later, after sustained pressure on Brave Blossoms try line, Mo'unga burst through the center to score his teams’ second try and after that the scores continued to flow. Ngani Laumape’s brute strength saw the center bag tries either side of scrum half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi’s five-pointer before the half.
Brave Blossoms’ captain Michael Leitch said, “In practice, we trained really hard for this game but it was more than we expected. We realized that we have to work even harder at training and after this game we need to think about what we need to do and what we need to improve to be able to compete with other teams in the world. So hopefully we can do that and the team mentality; at the beginning we were playing really well but there were some soft tries so that’s something we really need to work on.”
Japan did capitalize on opportunities however as no. 8 Henry Tui took advantage of some sloppy offloading by the All Blacks and smashed over for his side’s second try in the 32nd minute. With two minutes left on the clock, instead of the easy three points on offer, Japan opted for a lineout drive five meters out. After several attempts by the forward pack to drive over, the ball was spread wide to center Timothy Lafaele who showed tremendous strength to plant the ball down on the line with four defenders on him. That brought an end to an incredible opening 40 minutes of action that produced eight tries and saw New Zealand comfortably out in front 38-19.
Soon after the break, the All Blacks were at it again with Bridge beating everyone with his speed to secure his side’s sixth try. The Japanese defense seemed to be tiring and it looked like the floodgates would open.
The Brave Blossoms had other ideas however and Tamura’s deft kick over the top of the rushing defense found winger Jamie Henry who promptly dived over to cancel out Bridge’s earlier effort. Between the 56th and 62nd minutes though the All Blacks stepped it up with tries by Waisake Naholo, Matt Proctor, Laumape and Bridge.
All Credit to the Brave Blossoms though as the team conjured up their best five-pointer when diminutive winger Kenji Fukuda sped past two defenders to set up Lafaele’s second try and the last points of the match.
All Blacks Head Coach Hansen said,” We are very happy with how they played. Were they perfect? No, but we don’t expect perfect. What we really like to see in times when things are not going the way we want is that we’ve got the ability to adjust and adapt and come out the other side and I thought the group did that well today. I think we started the game pretty good, and then we got the charge-down, put us under a bit of pressure and the team coped with that well, and then got out and controlled the game from then on. Made some silly errors along the way but you know, after each one of them kept reappearing and coming right.”
Joseph despite the loss focused on the positives saying, “We wanted to take the game to the All Blacks, we didn’t really want to sit back so I’m really proud of the guys there. But clearly we make mistakes and a team like the All Blacks, they make you pay for it.”
- Todd Phillips: Nov 3rd 2018