USA turned on the style after the break to defeat Japan 30-17 at the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei in a cracking Rugby World Cup 2021 match.
Having lost to Italy in their opening Pool B match in week one, the Americans knew they had to perform well here.
And after a below par first 40 minutes, the seventh team in the World Rugby Women’s Rankings powered by Capgemini, stepped things up in the second period to come through this one after an entertaining clash.
Japan, who lost 41-5 to Canada in week one and are ranked 13th in the world, took the lead after just five minutes when scrum-half Megumi Abe went over. Fly-half Ayasa Otsuka missed the conversion and it was 5-0.
Things got better for the Japanese side in the 13th minute when USA’s blindside flanker Kathryn Johnson was yellow carded.
When she was off the team with 15 players were unable to take advantage though and, around the same time as she returned to the fray, USA got on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty by fly-half Gabriella Cantorna.
The next 17 minutes or so were scoreless meaning that was the way things stayed by the time the half-time whistle was blown and it was poised nicely at 5-3 to Japan.
USA needed a fast start to get into their rhythm after the interval and it came for them when hooker Joanna Kitlinski bagged a superbly taken try after 45 minutes. Cantorna could not convert and they had a slender 8-5 lead.
It only lasted six minutes though because winger Hinano Nagura scored Japan’s second try to show that they were going to be no pushovers. Otsuka missed the conversion.
In this end-to-end encounter, USA went straight back up the other end and scored their second try.
This time it was Alev Kelter who went over for five points, though Cantorna’s missed conversion meant their lead was again a small one at 13-10.
Knowing they needed a big last 20 minutes to shake off Japan, USA made three changes around the hour mark and the fresh legs paid off almost immediately.
Elizabeth Cairns, one of those substitutes, scored their third try with pretty much her first touch of the ball. Kelter converted.
And with 10 minutes to go winger Jennine Detiveaux scored USA’s bonus point fourth try which Kelter converted to make it 27-10.
Japan have plenty of battling qualities though and they scored their third try of the game with four minutes left through winger Komachi Imakugi.
She converted that one herself, but was then yellow carded for a deliberate knock on.
And USA made sure of the win with a late penalty through Kelter.
USA captain Kate Zackary - who was named Mastercard Player of the Match - said afterwards: "Every one of us knew we had to step up in this game and get the win and the guys did that, especially in the second half."