Player Ratings: A brave fight
OPINION: They showed plenty of promise, but Japan eventually fell short against the Wallabies in a 23-32 defeat in their first end-of-year test in Oita.
The match acted as the third test played by the Brave Blossoms since their stunning run to the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup after having lost to the British and Irish Lions and Ireland in Edinburgh and Dublin earlier this year.
Although they didn’t fully execute to the extent that warranted victory, Jamie Joseph’s side showed plenty of attacking enterprise and promise that would validate inclusion in future iterations of the Rugby Championship.
Alex Shaw rates the Brave Blossoms
1. Keita Inagaki – 5
Busy in a supporting role as a cleaner at the breakdown, but was pinged for angling in twice in the first half, the first of which gave the Wallabies an advantage that sparked the sequence of play leading up to Tom Wright eighth minute try. Gave away another penalty in the opening stages of the second half for leaving his feet at the breakdown. Off in the 49th minute.
2. Atsushi Sakate – 7.5
Mostly accurate with his lineout throwing but encountered some fightback from the Australian jumpers. Strong carry to help instigate a promising Japanese attack inside the opening quarter of an hour. Pinged for not releasing the ball in the 21st minute, which enabled the Wallabies to score via Jordan Petaia from a set piece. Topped his side’s tackle count with 13 as part of a massive shift. Off in the 70th minute.
3. Koo Ji-won – 7
Conceded a free kick at scrum time in the fifth minute for not allowing James Slipper enough space. Charging run up the guts leading up to Lemeki’s try. Gave away a penalty early in the second half for being in front of his side’s kicker, which Taniela Tupou ended up scoring from. Crumbled under pressure at scrum time in the 68th minute, but was still a great effort by the South Korean-born prop. Off in the 70th minute.
4. Jack Cornelsen – 8
The main target at the Japanese lineout. A constant presence at the breakdown and defensively. Great hustle to steal loose Australian in the fourth minute, which helped put the Wallabies on the back foot. Disrupted Australia’s jumpers to win the ball from the re-start to allow Japan to build phases and score via Lomano Lemeki. Pinged for an obstruction call just as James Moore looked to put the Wallabies on the back foot inside Australian territory in the 66th minute. That was the only blight in an otherwise great showing from the Australian-born lock.
5. James Moore – 6.5
Like his second row partner, played with a high work rate and didn’t shy away from the dirty work in the tight stuff. Jumped the gun early in the first half, allowing the Wallabies to play with freedom and set Wright away for his try. Penalised for not releasing the ball just as the Brave Blossoms looked threatening at the end of the first half.
6. Ben Gunter – 7
Strong early tackle to shutdown a promising Wallabies attack inside the first minute. Great heads-up play to strip the ball from the Wallabies in a dangerous attacking position near the half-hour mark. A very solid showing against his homeland. Off in the 49th minute.
7. Lappies Labuschagne (captain) – 6.5
Led the way on defence for the Brave Blossoms, although it wasn’t all perfect from the skipper. Caught the ref’s attention early for not supporting his body weight at the breakdown in the lead-up to Wright’s try. Sloppy ball control to stifle his own team’s attack not long after that. Nevertheless, a typically industrious defensive showing from the South African-born flanker.
8. Kazuki Himeno – 7
Outstanding defensive work at the breakdown to earn his side a penalty in the 33rd minute. Made the most running metres for Japan. Committed to the cause in all facets of the game. Didn’t produce many standout pieces of play, but his general work around the park showed why he’ll be missed by the Highlanders. Off in the 70th minute.
9. Yukuta Nagare – 6
Looked to box kick whenever his side had the ball inside their own half, but was the focal point of Japan’s high-tempo style of attack. Off in the 63rd minute.
10. Rikiya Matsuda – 6
Was mostly accurate off the kicking tee, landing three of his four shots at goal, but had a clanger with his 55th minute penalty attempt and handed the goal-kicking duties to Yu Tamura from there on out. Poor clearing kick under a mountain of pressure from the Wallabies inside the first quarter of the match, but redeemed himself with an excellent cross-field kick to assist Lemeki’s try.
11. Siosaia Fifita – 6
Got his hands on the ball through carries from short inside balls fed to him from ball off the top of the lineout, but with minimal effect. Thumping tackle – the biggest of the match – in the 77th minute.
12. Ryoto Nakamura – 6.5
A tad overeager on defence, rushing out of his team’s defensive line on occasion. Cost his side possession with a knock on just as Japan were gifted a lineout five metres from the Australian tryline five minutes from half-time. His incessant rushing off his line actually paid dividends in the 57th minute as he picked off Quade Cooper to score an intercept try.
13. Tim Lafaele – 6
Looked good early on with ball in hand. Broke the line up the middle of the park and showed good vision with a bid unsuccessfully set up a try with a grubber kick in behind the Australian defensive line. Was otherwise largely quiet.
14. Lomano Lemeki – 5.5
Quiet start to the game but got registered himself on the scoresheet by latching onto Matsuda’s cross-field kick to dot down in the corner. Sin binned for a blatant shoulder charge on Hunter Paisami, which was needless as a forward pass had been called against the Wallabies, and his absence proved costly for Japan as they leaked five points while he was gone. Never returned as he was replaced by Dylan Riley once his 10-minute suspension expired in the 58th minute.
15. Semisi Masirewa – 7
Looked intent in keeping the ball in play with quick lineouts and seemed sharp with ball in hand. Kicked very well out hand throughout the course of the match, but had a clearing kick charged down and was fortunate the Wallabies failed to capitalise. Tweaked a hamstring in that play which forced him from the field in the 48th minute.
16. Yusuke Niwai – N/A
On in the 70th minute. One successful lineout throw to his name.
17. Craig Millar – 7
On in the 49th minute. Absolutely demolished the Australian scrum in the 59th minute, much to the delight of his Brave Blossoms teammates. Deft ball-playing ability on attack. Should really be starting against Ireland in a fortnight’s time.
18. Asaeli Ai Valu – N/A
On in the 70th minute.
19. Yoshitaka Tokunaga – 7
On in 49th minute. Showed his strength with a determined run up the guts in the 67th minute. Exceptional turnover to stifle Australia’s attack late in the match.
20. Tevita Tatafu – 7
On in the 70th minute. Top-class work to earn his side a penalty from the breakdown in the 74th minute, which Tamura scored from.
21. Naoto Saito – 6
On in the 63rd minute. Not the greatest start to the match by throwing a pass to nobody and gifting possession back to the Wallabies.
22. Yu Tamura – 6
On in the 48th minute. Knocked over an easy conversion from point black range following Nakamura’s try. Doubled down with an important penalty from distance in the 75th minute.
23. Dylan Riley – 6
On in the 58th minute for his test debut against his nation of birth. A decent couple of touches with ball in hand.
By Alex McLeod, Rugbypass