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Japan thrash Tonga 41-7 in confidence boost before World Cup

Ananaki Lelei Mafi (R) scored Japan’s first try in their match against Tonga © JIJI PRESS/AFP / JIJI PRESS

TOKYO, Japan, Aug 3 – Japan thrashed Tonga Saturday 41-7 before a sold-out crowd, a confidence boosting second win in a row for the Brave Blossoms as they build up to the World Cup on home soil.

The 11th-ranked Brave Blossoms bagged five tries to 14th-ranked Tonga’s one in their second match of the Pacific Nations Cup, with less than 50 days before Japan hosts the first World Cup to be held in Asia.

Captain Michael Leitch, back after injury, said the team would scrutinise their performance but that they were on the right track after last week’s win against Fiji.

“There was so much pressure from them, it shows our performance is improving from last week,” he said.

“We’re doing well on the way to the World Cup.”

Japan took an early lead with Amanaki Lelei Mafi diving over the line for their first try, and both Asaeli Ai Valu and Timothy Lafaele made their mark in the first half.

A penalty kick by Tonga’s Sonatane Takulua missed the goal in the final minutes of the first half, leaving the score a lopsided 21-0.

The first points for Tonga came in the second half, with a try by Leva Fifita.

But Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka cemented the victory for the home side at Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

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The win came despite head coach Jamie Joseph leaving the team to return to New Zealand earlier in the day after the death of his mother.

“The team have promised to play for him,” national team performance committee vice chairman Yuichiro Fujii told reporters, according to Kyodo news agency.

– Reshaped Fiji beats Canada –

Earlier Saturday, Fiji scored a 38-13 win over Canada in Suva in a morale-boosting performance for the defending champions after last week’s loss to Japan.

Fiji’s Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa was the side’s captain for the first time in the match against Canada © AFP / THIERRY BRETON

It was a vastly different Fiji side that faced Canada, with only three forwards retaining their places and Racing 92 lock Leone Nakarawa captain for the first time.

While Canada enjoyed the best of possession and territory it was the solid Fijian pack that controlled the breakdown, but coach John McKee said the line-up needed more work.

“On the scoreboard, a good score-line, but we’re a little bit disappointed today that we couldn’t really build our continuity to really put Canada under pressure, we took our opportunities, but we also turned over quite a lot of ball,” he said.

Canada coach Kingsley Jones saw an improvement in his side from their loss against USA, but added more work was needed.

“We put Fiji under pressure, we got field position, but unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”

After an early Shane O’Leary penalty for Canada, Viliame Mata, Peceli Yato, and Nakarawa responded with tries for Fiji in the first half before Canada scored against the run of play when Kainoa Lloyd crossed the line from an intercept.

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In the opening minutes of the second half prop Peni Ravai and right wing Josua Tuisova barrelled their way over the line to cement Fiji’s lead, before Mesulame Dolokoto added a further try in the closing stages.

– Eagles hold off Samoa –

Earlier Saturday, a late penalty by AJ MacGinty kept the USA Eagles unbeaten when they overcame Samoa 13-10.

But while the Eagles controlled much of the game they were rarely able to convert their dominance into points — leading coach Gary Gold to say they have “a long way to go” before the World Cup.

“Samoa put us under a lot of pressure. Our set-piece didn’t function as well as I would have liked it to function and our attack as well.”

Samoa coach Steve Jackson was also disappointed, saying the Pacific islanders “can’t afford to make that many mistakes in a game and not capitalise on the pressure that we had.”

MacGinty, one of the few survivors in a vastly rearranged USA side following their 47-19 disposal of Canada, had them on the board with a handy penalty in the third minute.

Samoa struck back almost immediately when AJ Alatimu set Alapati Leiua up for a simple try against a non-existent defence.

The Americans responded with MacGinty’s try and there were no further points for more than 50 minutes when a Henry Taefu penalty brought Samoa level at 10-10, only for MacGinty to strike back to claim the win.

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