All Blacks outmuscle brave Blossoms
November 2, 2013
Charles Piutau impressed with two tries in Japan
© Getty Images
New Zealand scored eight tries to none in defeating Japan in Tokyo, but their hosts gave the All Blacks a fierce contest - particularly in the set-pieces and at the breakdown - and this was nothing like the rout that were the teams' two previous contests.
The game served as a useful test for the second-string All Blacks scrum, which was tested unexpectedly by the improved home set-piece, but the visitors produced a commanding performance in the second half as wet conditions minimised attacking opportunities for the backs.
Japan demonstrated the worth of a full program of international rugby in achieving their most competitive result in their brief history of internationals against the New Zealanders, and they finished strongly after the All Blacks had been ruled to have dropped the ball when on attack. The Brave Blossoms broke out from their own 22, and they were denied a try in the final act of the game only by desperate tackles from loose forwards Stephen Luatua and captain Richie McCaw that forced Kenki Fukuoka into touch in the act of diving over for what would have been a dramatic try for the home team.
Frank Halai proved to be a powerful presence on Test debut © Getty Images
Japan started the match impressively, but they lost fly-half Harumichi Tatekawa to a shoulder injury early and ran into solid All Blacks defence; handling errors in the rain that started falling from the quarter-hour also cruelled their hopes.
New Zealand opened the scoring when Charles Piutau was perfectly placed following a midfield bomb from Beauden Barrett, racing 20 metres unopposed to the tryline after Ryu Koliniasi Holani had spilled the ball under pressure. Ayumu Goromaru provided reward for Japan's initial bustle with two penalty goals, but that was as close as the hosts would get.
Holani made another mistake when attempting to run the ball from the back only to lose the ball in the tackle, just as he had at the first scrum of the game; New Zealand collected the loose ball and moved it left to Piutau and right to Dane Coles, who popped a ball over the top for Sam Cane to score. Piutau made another run just moments later when Ben Smith secured a kick ahead by Dan Carter to feed the winger, who slipped a pass back to the centre who had stayed in support to score. The All Blacks then extended their lead despite a scrum that struggled for dominance at a five-metre set-piece, with McCaw picking up the ball and ploughing over for the try.
Dominic Bird, on Test debut, became New Zealand's tallest second-row in history © Getty Images
New Zealand in the second half looked to take the Japanese on more up front, with McCaw leading the charge off the back of mauls, and Thrush drove over for his first Test try in the 50th minute. Carter landed his fifth conversion and left the field to be substituted by Tom Taylor, who moved to fullback with Barrett moving to first five-eighth. Increased scrum control, a vastly improved area of the game in the damp conditions, resulted in McCaw's work setting up a try on debut for wing Frank Halai in the 57th minute, the winger picking up the ball after a strong attempt by Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Barrett was unable to convert Halai's try - the first missed kick of the game - but he soon made amends with a try before Piutau bagged his second, the kicker converting both.
New Zealand added the Raeburn Trophy to their cabinet © Getty Images
New Zealand were pushed harder than had been expected (video available only in Australia)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd with Sportal
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