Broken hearts as Fiji steal a win.
Japanese hearts have been broken in the dying seconds as Fiji snatched a thrilling victory by 40-39.
In a remarkable display of open and entertaining rugby the huge crowd in Fiji’s capital- Suva, have been treated to a game that will linger in their memories for a long time. Right from the outset both teams were eager to have a crack, Japan was the first team to dominate, surprisingly enough this what right through the middle of the Fiji pack.
This early onslaught was rewarded with a try to Japanese openside Taufa Toetu'u in the 6th minute. Ryan Nicolas slotted the conversion and the urgency of the visitors was clear for all to see. Japan was confident & their set pieces & were executing with precision. Fiji regained some control after a heap of defense was required; they got a penalty and pegged 3 points back.
Momentum swung so many times in this match, next to score was winger Jack Tarran for the cherry blossoms. Nicolas was on radar and the lead for John Kirwans men crept out further with his conversion.
On the 20 minute mark the Fijians fired, after a great scrum sniping halfback Nemia Kenatale showed his class and romped in under the sticks for a marvelous try, this got the crowd cheering and this continued after the conversion went over too. Fiji started to apply the pressure and gutsy play was met with gutsier D. In the set pieces it was the smaller Japanese pack that starred, they plucked kickoffs out of the Suva skies, they controlled the lineouts & they looked composed with the ball in hand. James Arlidge has more control than a kid on play station and he made sure Japan was at the right end of the pitch.
The 20 minutes to 40 minutes was a real tussle, both sides threw everything at each other and the spectacle was a treat for everyone basking in the hot sun. Just before the break it was Fiji Sevens captain and hero Vereniki Goneva that stepped up and scored under the posts. He chased a kick through and showed all the pouncing ability he has showcased on the IRB Sevens circuit with a fine try. This had Fiji running into the tunnel with a 20-14 lead.
In the second spell it was the Japanese that threw down a massive challenge, their hooker Yusuke Aoki bulldozed over in the first 42nd minute, this lifted the pack and they outgunned Fiji in this department. Nicolas’s kicking boots were well and truly on as he nailed another wide conversion, Japan applied more heat on Fiji and soon after had another try to inspirational captain Takashi Kikutani. He was in the boot of the Japanese scrum & the duel with him and his opposite Netani Talei was a beauty.
From the 50th minute to 70th it was all systems go as both teams attacked. The lines were not cracked, but offences were made and penalties traded. Fiji got 3 points back, but Japan replied only to have Fiji get another one. The cool head of Seremaia Bai kept Fiji in the hunt and his experience truly made Fiji a better team in the competition.
Japan was the next to seize power in this match; again it was their leader Kikutani who crashed over for a try in the left corner. He held his chest a proud man and was swamped by his teammates in joy. This time Nicolas slotted a great kick from the touchline, this made it 36-24 with seven minutes to go, all bets were on Japan for glory.
This spiked the decibels of the home crowd; Go Fiji Go chants powered around the stadium and the Fiji side were listening. Vereniki Goneva made a telling run up the middle, on his shoulder was a hooker running like the wind and Sireli Ledua bolted in near the sticks. Bai converted and the crowd was even hungrier for more.
More is exactly what they got; the first part was a sensational 52 meter penalty from Ryan Nicolas. This act was just before fulltime and it even earnt the applause of the Fiji players under the posts as it sailed over. With injury time racing bye the Fijian’s had one more act for today, it was an old classic called 80 minutes & it went like this. Netani Talei picked up from a scrum and sprinted to the 22, he unloaded only for the Japanese to spoil the pass. This left a lineout to Fiji 5 meters out with seconds on the clock. They claimed the throw and had raid after raid at the line of Japan, each time they were denied and the courage from Japan was mighty.
Driving well and low the Fijians sucked a precious penalty, too far behind to kick they tapped and went at it again. Powering in they kept composure to control the ball and play patient rugby; this was rewarded in the last act of the game as Netani Talei scored. Fiji’s hard working pack all jumped on top of their mate and the scenes were memorable as Fiji came back from the death today. Bai help his nerve to convert from beside the posts and Fiji signed off from the ANZ Pacific Nations Cup in 2nd place.