Japan too good for USA
November 16, 2008
Japan's Ryan Nicholas weighed in with 16 points for the Cherry Blossoms in Nagoya
© Getty Images
Japan powered to a 29-19 victory over USA in the first match of their two-Test series at Mizuho Park Rugby Ground, in Nagoya.
The Eagles led 14-10 at half-time but were held to just five points in the second period and were punished for their own indiscipline with the Cherry Blossoms' centre Ryan Nicholas ending the game with 16 points.
It was Nicholas who opened the scoring in the second minute, slotting over an easy penalty from 25 metres out after the Eagles had been caught offsides on a ruck. And with Luke Thompson leading the way with some big hits for the hosts defence stopped the Eagles from building any early momentum.
But in the 10th minute, Japan's Shaun Webb looked to run the ball from his own 22, rather than kick, and a poor inside pass from Kosuke Endo saw the Eagles reclaim the ball. It eventually worked its way to Mike MacDonald and the experienced prop pushed it over for the opening try, which was converted by Mike Hercus.
The Japan-based flyhalf had a chance to extend the Eagles' lead in the 25th minute after Japan was penalized for having come in from the side of a ruck, 40 meters out, but his kick drifted left. A good break by Koji Taira four minutes later was stopped by an Eagle in an offsides position.
Takashi Kikutani had Webb go for touch rather than goal. From the lineout, a superb driving maul saw the Japan pack advance 20 metres before Kensuke Hatakeyama crashed over.
Referee Peter Fitzgibbon could not be sure of the grounding so for the first time in a test match in Japan the decision was referred to the Television Match Official, who decided Hatakeyama had been held up.
Japan kept the pressure on the visitors, however, and it paid off just minutes before the break. A scrum five metres out saw Japan push the Americans back. The ball was released to Webb who made a break. Holani ended up with it and dived over a pile of bodies for the try. Nicholas added the extras as Japan went up 10-7.
The lead lasted just two minutes, though, as Takudzwa Ngwenya made the most of his teammates' ability to release the ball in the tackle. Ngwenya ran it over for the USA's second try of the first half. Hercus was on target with the conversion and the States led 14-10 at the break.
The teams started the second half like the first, fairly evenly matched, but good breaks by Endo and Webb, following some great counter-rucking put them in good field position. They were held back by the Eagles, but were able to make amends in the 46th minute.
A superb break from fullback Kaoru Matsushita was finished off by Endo in the right-hand corner as the crowd came to life. Nicholas slotted the conversion as Japan again led, 17-14. Nicholas made it a six-point lead in the 50th minute when referee Fitzgibbon penalized the Americans for dissent, the Japan center slotting the penalty over from 25 meters out.
The Americans were getting frustrated and another infringement saw Webb take over the kicking duties and land a penalty from 48 meters out and Japan led 23-14 with 58 minutes on the clock.
Nicholas resumed his role as kicker in the 68th minute and duly made it 26-14 as Japan kept up its high-pace attack, forcing the Eagles into mistakes.
However, the whistle wasn't always going in Japan's favor and new cap Michael Leitch was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Ngwenya in the 68th minute. The Americans made their extra man count and J.J. Gagiano showed great anticipation at a lineout to intercept the ball on the Japan 10-meter line. Although, Gagiano was caught just short of the line, Joe Welch was on hand to pick it up and put it down, bringing the Eagles to within seven at 26-19.
It was too little, too late for the visitors however, and Japan sealed the game in the 78th minute when Nicholas slotted over his fourth penalty of the afternoon and the Cherry Blossoms won 29-19.
This was only the fourth time in their 23-year history of competition that the Eagles have lost to Japan. The series now goes to 12-4-1, as the tourists prepares for its second match against Japan at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on November 22.
Japan (10) 29
USA (14) 19
Japan: Kaoru Matsushita (Yamaha Jubilo), Kosuke Endo (Toyota Verblitz), Koji Taira (Suntory Sungoliath), Ryan Nicholas (Suntory Sungoliath), Koji Tomioka (Yamaha Jubilo), Shaun Webb (World Fighting Bull), Fumiaki Tanaka (Sanyo Wild Knights), Hisateru Hirashima (Kobelco Steelers), Yusuke Aoki (Suntory Sungoliath), Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory Sungoliath), Luke Thompson (Kintetsu Liners), Toshizumi Kitagawa (Toyota Verblitz), Hajime Kiso (Yamaha Jubilo), Takashi Kikutani (Toyota Verblitz, captain), Ryu Koliniasi Holani (Sanyo Wild Knights)
Replacements: Naonori Mizuyama (NEC Green Rockets), Naoki Kawamata (Sanyo Wild Knights), Tomoaki Taniguchi (Toyota Verblitz), Michael Leitch (Tokai University), Tomoki Yoshida (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Masakazu Irie (Sanyo Wild Knights), Bryce Robins (NEC Green Rockets)
USA: Chris Wyles(Saracens), Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz), Paul Emerick (Overmach Parma), Junior Sifa (Middleton), Gavin DeBartolo (Eastern Suburbs), Mike Hercus (IBM), Mike Petri (NYAC), Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie), Mark Crick (Potomac Athletic Club), Matekitonga Moeakiola (Unattached), Hayden Smith (Saracens), John VanderGiessen (Denver Barbarians), Inaki Basauri (Agen), Todd Clever (Xerox Lions, captain), Pat Quinn (Denver Barbarians)
Replacements: Joe Welch (Cal), Shawn Pittman (Chuckanut Bay), Alec Parker (Gentlemen of Aspen), J.J. Gagiano (University of Cape Town), Chad Erskine (Rotherham), Valenese Malifa (Belmont Shore), Thretton Palamo (Biarritz)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)