Japan outscored hosts Korea seven tries to five to open their Asia Rugby Championship defence with an entertaining 47-29 win in Incheon.
Ryoto Nakamura, Kazuhito Usami and Ryuji Noguchi bagged a brace of tries apiece before prop Shintaro Ishihara confirmed the win for the defending champions with their seventh try 10 minutes from time.
Korea, who boasted five different try-scorers, never gave up the fight and restricted Japan to their smallest margin of victory since the Brave Blossoms' current 16-game winning streak in fixtures between the two teams began in 2004.
Jamie Joseph’s side looked as though they were going to run up a cricket score when inside centre Nakamura and second-row Usami got the first of their two tries within the first eight minutes, both converted by debutant fly-half Jumpei Ogura.
But Korea hit back with two quick tries of their own through Han Kun-kyu and Kim Jeep to close the gap to two points.
Korea’s forwards continued to cause Japan problems but Nakamura’s second and a further try from Noguchi, again converted by Ogura, gave them a sizeable cushion again.
After 32 minutes, Korea were reduced to 14 men when full-back Lee Jae Bok was sent to the sin-bin, and Japan capitalised to score through Usami. Ogura’s fifth conversion sent his side into the break 35-12 up.
Despite starting the second half short-handed, Korea clawed seven points back within 20 seconds of the restart when number eight Lee Yong Seung charged over for a converted try.
Scrum-half Shin Ki Cheol then dived over following some good work from his pack as the hosts closed to within 11 points.
Noguchi and Shintaro Ishihara ensured Japan would come away with the win, before Chang Yong Heung grabbed a consolation for Korea on the stroke of full-time.
With nearly 20 rating points between the sides at the start of play, the result of the match did not affect the World Rugby Rankings. Japan remain 11th in the world on 74.22 points, while Korea are 28th.
SWISS INTO TOP 30
Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying continued in Europe with a third victory in the Rugby Europe Trophy boosting Switzerland's rating by 1.46 points to 53.63, and moving them up four places to 30th at the expense of Poland, who they beat 22-12 in Warsaw. The Swiss owed their victory to a try at the start of each half from winger Lucas Heinrich.
Malta’s perfect start to the season in Rugby Europe’s Conference 1 South continued with a 39-17 win at home to Israel. With three bonus-point wins out of three, they are now one point better off than Israel with a game in hand.
The win moves Malta up two places in the rankings to 42nd, taking them above Colombia and Uganda in the process, while Israel stay unchanged in 59th despite losing 0.43 of a point.
Lithuania consigned Luxembourg to a third straight defeat in Conference 1 North, second-row Darius Vaitkevicius scoring either side of the interval to help his side to a hard-fought 24-12 victory.
With nearly seven points between the teams before kick-off, the victory was only worth one-hundredth of a rating point to Lithuania and they remain 45th in the rankings.
Conference 2 South leaders Bosnia and Herzegovina are up to two places to 68th after a 21-10 win at home to Serbia came with a 0.44-point gain.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are being chased down at the top of the 2 North table by Austria, who are only a point adrift of them in second place, with a game in hand, after a 13-0 win over Slovenia. Austria climb three places to 82nd as a result of the victory.
In Conference 2 North, Hungary continue to lead the field after making it three wins from three with a 42-7 win over Norway. Like Austria, the win has lifted them three places, to 76th.
Denmark were similarly impressive in dispatching Finland 53-5 in the other Conference 2 North fixture to take place on Saturday. The win was worth 0.71 of a point, enough to move them ahead of Niue Island into 86th place.
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