North Harbour topple Japan XV in warm-up
June 5, 2010
Japan's Shinsuke Nakamura clings onto Shane Neville's jersey © Getty Images
North Harbour claimed an international scalp by beating Asian Five Nations champions Japan 23-19 at Albany on Friday night.
In their first game ahead of the upcoming New Zealand domestic season, North Harbour had the better of a scrappy affair to account for a Japanese side preparing for the Pacific Nations Cup tournament.
The home side were outscored three tries to two but both teams would have more had it not been for poor handling. North Harbour were aided by their set piece dominance and ability to regularly break the first line of defence, although unforced errors helped keep the scoreline down.
They led 16-0 at halftime, with their only try of that period coming in the 34th minute when No 8 Matt Luamanu scored after detaching from a rolling maul near the line. Japan, who have qualified for next year's World Cup in New Zealand, threatened on occasions without providing the finishing touches needed to get back into the match until it was too late.
Having lost two players to injury in the first half, North Harbour coach Craig Dowd introduced another five reserves at the start of the second spell. They should have added to their try tally just four minutes into the second half after quick hands from halfback Chris Smylie and fullback Jack McPhee presented space along the touchline for Ken Pisi only for the wing to drop the ball with the line open.
But they did not have to wait long to increase their lead, with Smylie skipping through a big hole behind a ruck on the 22 to score in the 46th minute.
The pace of the match was beginning to tell on the visitors at this stage as their missed tackle count climbed in the face of the hard running hosts. However, Japan's spirits rose in the 52nd minute when they responded with a try of their own, to hooker Shota Horie after a clinical lineout drive, before lock Toshizumi Kitagawa was sinbinned for 10 minutes after a making a nuisance of himself at a breakdown.
But North Harbour could not make their numerical advantage count and the Japanese scored their second try 12min from fulltime when bruising centre Alisi Tupauailei beat three defenders from 10m out. The Japanese continued to lift their intensity as the clock wound down and they were rewarded when replacement halfback Koji Wada scampered across for their third try with two minutes remaining.
Japanese coach, All Blacks great John Kirwan, arranged the match to help sharpen up his team ahead of the Pacific Nations Cup tournament against Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. Their opening match is against Fiji at Lautoka next Saturday.