Junior Japan put the disappointment of three consecutive runners-up finishes behind them to beat four-time reigning champions Fiji Warriors 21-12 and claim their first World Rugby Pacific Challenge title in Suva on Saturday.
It brought to an end the Warriors' incredible 15-match winning run in the competition that has served as a key part in the development pathway in both Oceania and Asia and left them four points clear at the top of the table.
Meanwhile, in the first match of the day, Tonga A celebrated their first win of the tournament after a 36-10 victory over Pacific rivals Samoa A.
FIJI WARRIORS 12-21 JUNIOR JAPAN
Fielding five of the side that helped to bring home the World Rugby U20 Trophy title in Brazil last July, Junior Japan had players in their ranks who knew what it took to win on the big occasion. However, it was two players who narrowly missed out on selection for that tournament who proved to be key to Junior Japan finally wrestling the Pacific Challenge silverware from the Fiji Warriors.
Winger Haruto Kida scored a try in each half, doubling his overall tally for the tournament in the process, and influential fly-half Rintaro Maruyama kicked three penalties and a conversion in a match that was far tighter than last year's 66-24 win to the Warriors.
The home side's bid for a fifth consecutive title got off to a good start, though, centre Epeli Momo scoring a try with the game only three minutes old. Scrum-half Simi Kuruvoli added the conversion.
Not long after, Maruyama clawed three points back from the kicking tee before Junior Japan took the lead in the 17th minute through the first of Kida's tries.
It was a lead they would never relinquish and one they improved on the stroke of half-time when Maruyama bisected the posts again.
Stirred into action, the Warriors upped their game after the break and were rewarded with a try for captain and fly-half Tuidraki Samusamuvodre in the 46th minute. With Kuruvoli missing the conversion, the Warriors still trailed by two points.
An uncustomary lack of accuracy in attack prevented the Fijians converting more pressure into points and Kida's second try and Maruyama's conversion put Junior Japan two scores ahead at 21-12.
A scoreless final half an hour followed and Junior Japan were left to celebrate after creating a piece of history.
Junior Japan centre Seungshin Lee said: "Our aim when we started from the camp back in Japan, was to create one team and to play as one rugby team. We played well against Samoa and Tonga so we believed if we keep playing our rugby we’ll win this game."
Junior Japan coach Yoshitake Mizuma said: "Yes, Fiji was tough, very tough, but they gave us the opportunity to improve. We are happy to be the first-ever Japan team to win the World Rugby Pacific Challenge."
Fiji Warriors captain Tuidraki Samusamuvodre said: "It wasn't the result we wanted. We lost a lot of balls and made a lot of errors and that cost us. But it was a great effort from the boys; it is what it is."
SAMOA A 10-36 TONGA A
Number eight Petelo Pouhila scored a hat-trick of tries and also picked up his second yellow card of the tournament as Tonga A emerged comfortable winners against Samoa A to finish third overall.
With a 19-3 lead, Tonga A were in total control at the break and the second half followed a similar pattern until Pouhila's sin-binning and the concession of a penalty try, just before a brief stoppage for lightning, resulted in a temporary momentum shift in the Samoans' favour.
Pouhila's first try arrived in the second minute and went unconverted, the first of two misses from the kicking tee by Tonga A captain Patelesio Oneone.
Phillippe Sella Fale responded with a fifth-minute penalty for Samoa A but he could not repeat the feat when presented with another opportunity approaching the end of the first quarter.
That was as good as it got for his side who shipped two converted tries in a 10-minute period between the 20th minute and the half-hour mark, Pouhila getting his second before flanker Finepolo Maafu added his name to the scoresheet. With Oneone adding the extras on both occasions, Tonga A held a 16-point advantage.
With Oneone failing to knock over a penalty attempt, it looked as though the third quarter would remain scoreless until Pouhila completed his hat-trick. Oneone converted the try and added a penalty as Tonga A extended their lead to 29-3.
Samoa A took their score into double figures with the award of a penalty try but they were unable to capitalise on Pouhila's absence and it was Tonga A who rounded off the scoring in the 77th minute when replacement Viliame Makaafi crossed for a try that Oneone converted.
Oneone said: "I'm so happy for the win this afternoon, it was a tough game, but the Tongan team wanted to play for the win. This is a sport: one team will win and one team will lose. When we finish this tournament and go back to Tonga, we’ll practice and practice and do more training for next year."
Samoa A captain Joseph Faleafaga said: "Sadly, we didn’t finish on a high note as we were planning to but the game was pretty tough, we were expecting the usual rivalry between Samoa and Tonga. As we’ve mentioned, there are a lot of U20 boys in our squad so positives are that we’ve learnt from this tournament a lot of lessons and we’ll just try and develop as we move on to the future."