Hosts Japan show World Cup potential
World Cup hosts Japan have signalled their readiness to threaten top-tier nations again at this year’s global showpiece, clinching the Pacific Nations Cup title with a 34-20 victory over the United States.
Japan won adulation when they topped South Africa in a pool match at the 2015 World Cup and coach Jamie Joseph made no secret of their ambitions after Saturday’s final round victory in Suva.
“Our first goal was to win the PNC. The next goal is to go to the World Cup, play our Japan brand of rugby and make the top eight,” Joseph said.
Japan played with typical pace and flair, scoring four tries including a double to captain Michael Leitch.
Leitch led a strong and physical forward pack and winger Kenji Fukuoka, who scored a superb try, was a stand out in a skilful backline.
“I think it all came down to preparation,” Leitch said. “We’ve been together since February and all the hard work has paid off.
“I think we’re on the right track [for the World Cup]. It was a good performance. Our discipline let us down at times but we’re on the right track.”
Japan won all three of its matches in the Pacific Nations Cup, beating defending champion Fiji 34-21 and Tonga 41-7 before its showdown with the United States.
The United States beat Canada 47-19 and Samoa 13-10 to reach the Final, but had to settle for second place, matching its best previous finish in the tournament.
Captain Blaine Scully said while the Eagles were disappointed with their performance in the Final they feel the tournament has set them up well for the World Cup. Their world ranking rose one place during the tournament to 13.
“Japan played really well and they punished us for every mistake that we made,” Scully said. “As much as we’re disappointed by the result, this is very much about the process.”
Fiji beat Samoa 10-3 and Tonga beat Canada 33-23 in other matches in the weekend’s final round.
Fiji matched the United States’ two wins, one loss record while Tonga posted its first win in this season’s tournament and Canada finished without a win from three games.
Wing Vereniki Goneva became Fiji’s leading try-scorer in tests during Saturday’s match against Samoa. He scored his 21st test try in the 43rd minute to decide a tight contest against Samoa.
“We won a very physical arm wrestle,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “It was a tough battle for us.
“Credit to Samoa, they put us under a lot of pressure and made us make errors.”