Tonga defeated Japan 31-18 in their Rugby World Cup Pool A match yesterday to end its four-match losing streak at the tournament.
Each side scored three tries, but four penalties from Tonga’s Kurt Morath helped separate the teams. Tonga’s Viliami Ma’afu, Tukulua Lokotui and Fetu’u Vainikolo scored tries, while Japan’s Kensuke Hatakeyama, Michael Leitch and Alisi Tupuailai touched down in Whangarei, New Zealand.
The victory, Tonga’s first in the last six meetings with Japan, gives the island nation its first win at this year’s tournament. Tonga moves ahead of Canada, which also has one win, and Japan, which has lost all three pool matches. France and the hosts, New Zealand, are tied at the top of the pool with 10 points.
“We needed to get a win,” said Tonga captain Aleki Lutui. “This is not the end of the road and we can now look forward to France. Our weakness has been in the last 10 minutes and we got it right tonight.”
Japan hasn’t won in its last 17 matches in the tournament, its only victory coming against Zimbabwe, 52-8, in the 1991 World Cup.
Tonga forced a Japanese handling error on the opening kickoff. The first seven minutes were played in the Japanese half, with Tonga failing to score in an early attack because the defense stopped the attacker from touching the ball down. Soon after Ma’afu did score the first try after a five-meter scrum.
Japan’s James Arlidge was given a yellow card in the 31st minute, but Tonga wasn’t able to take advantage. After two tries for each team, the score was 18-13 to Tonga at halftime, with Japan’s Shaun Webb kicking a penalty in the 39th minute.
Tonga scored a penalty and a try in the first 15 minutes of the second half to get some distance from Japan. Halani Aulika got a yellow card in the 61st minute and Japan scored a try two minutes later.
Short-handed Tonga was able to get a penalty from Morath in the 68th minute to finish the scoring. Japan threatened in the last 10 minutes, controlling 69 percent of possession, but couldn’t touch down.
Tukulua Lokotui was given a yellow card in the 78th minute, Tonga’s 13th in all Rugby World Cup matches, tying a record Italy set this week.
Japan missed all three conversions in the match.
“They were just a lot stronger over the ball than us and that pressure told,” Japan coach John Kirwan said. “Our errors came from their pressure at the ruck, if we can fix that we’ll be all right.”
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