Last week I stated Japan needed to set down a marker with France…
I also stated when you play France you never know which team will turn up and Japan might have a serious chance of taking a sneaky draw or win…
Fast forward to Saturday and both came true. What a result!
Japan fought like warriors, taking France head on in all areas of the pitch, acheiving a fantastic 23-23 draw. Japan however must be sore to think however it could of been a historic victory as a missed conversion let France off the hook. Simply fantastic.
Jamie Joseph’s Japan dominated for much of the game and outscored their opponents by three tries to two, but fly-half Yu Tamura missed a simple late conversion that would have sealed a famous win, letting France and Guy Noves off the hook.
Hooker Shota Horie went over for the opening try of the game before Rabah Slimani responded for France. Timothy Lafaele and Asaeli Ai Valu went over for further Japan scores, either side of a Gabriel Lacroix effort for France, who was sin-binned with 20 minutes left for taking a man out in the air.
The hosts almost hit back immediately, but Lacroix was unable to touch down before being bundled into touch, while the home crowd jeered in disgust when Trinh-Duc opted to kick a penalty for the posts instead of the corner as he cut the gap to two points.
With 90 seconds until the interval, the fly-half did kick a penalty for the corner, and it paid off, with sustained pressure leading to Clermont prop Slimani barrelling over. Trinh-Duc added the extras to put a flat home side five points to the good at the interval.
Japan came out in the second half fully focused. Centre Lafaele barging through the hapless France defence to touch down and Tamura’s simple conversion edged the tourists ahead.
After twice giving away possession with handling errors, France were forced into some fierce defence on their own line after an excellent break by Japan captain Michael Leitch, before breaking the shackles and levelling the scores through a long-range Francois Trinh-Duc penalty.
A third Japanese try almost followed, but Kazuki Himeno was denied by a forward pass in the build-up.
France hit back again, though, with La Rochelle’s Lacroix scoring a debut try from a long cross-field kick by Trinh-Duc, who successfully converted.
Noves’ side were still spending most of the second half camped inside their own 22, but survived a flurry of Japan five-metre lineouts. Japan were given a further boost when Lacroix was sin-binned for tackling Tamura in the air.
Tamura and Trinh-Duc traded penalties to leave the game still finely balanced heading into the final 10 minutes, and the Brave Blossoms finally grabbed their third try as replacement prop Ai Valu cleverly took the ball from a ruck to score.
But Tamura missed the simple conversion when he should really have given Japan only a second ever win over a Tier-One nation, after their famous 34-32 victory against South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.
Well done #BraveBlossoms! A fantastic result which will certainly fuel their desire to do well in 2019 and provide then with confidence that anything is possible. Jamie Joseph should be very proud of the team…let’s hope 2018 brings even more.
Full match can be seen below (with French commentary)