Japan recovered from going 10-3 down against Samoa to secure a bonus-point win in Cape Town and bounce back from last week’s loss to Italy.
The Sakura 15s played some good attacking rugby to come out on top 32-10 against a Samoa side who did well in the first half, but were hit by two yellow cards in the second.
At the Athlone Sports Stadium, Samoa took the lead in the ninth minute through a penalty from fly-half Cassie Siataga.
Japan then had a good spell of pressure and looked to have scored their first points after 17 minutes when number eight Seina Saito reached out and thought she had bagged a try.
However, referee Holly Wood checked with the TMO and it became clear that she had lost control of the ball and it had gone forward just before the try-line.
Three minutes later Japan did get onto the scoreboard when Ayasa Otsuka, their fly-half, kicked a penalty.
The match was being played at a great pace with both teams trying to attack at every opportunity and, in the 26th minute, Samoa scored the first try of the day.
Following an interception, they managed to set dangerous full-back Karla Wright-Akeli away and, eventually, it was tight-head prop Rereglory Aiono powering over for five points. Siataga converted and it was 10-3.
Japan, who had been in possession a lot but were behind, knew they had to score next and they did.
It was only 60 seconds or so after the Samoa score that they themselves were over the try-line at the other end, cracking handling setting up captain Iroha Nagata, the openside flanker, who ran a good line to touch down. Otsuka converted and it was 10-10.
The final points of an enthralling first half came thanks to a penalty by Otsuka in the 37th minute and the Japanese team were 13-10 up at the interval.
Japan started the second half with great intent, but Samoa defended well and managed to somehow hold attackers up twice over the try-line in quick succession.
In the 47th minute the Sakura 15s did get the ball down for their second try of the match, blindside flanker Sakurako Korai the player finishing off out wide. Otsuka could not kick the tricky conversion and it was 18-10.
With Japan continuing on the front foot, Samoa’s Wright-Akeli was yellow carded for slowing down an attack with a deliberate knock-on in the 54th minute.
A few minutes later, after referee Wood checked in with the TMO, Samoa right winger Linda Fiafia was yellow carded for head-on-head contact while trying to make a covering tackle.
Winger Komachi Imakugi and centre Kanako Kobayashi combined on the hour mark and it looked like Japan’s third try was coming, but scrambling cover defence saved the 13 players of Samoa.
They did put more points on the board, though, when inside-centre Haruka Hirotsu went over for a five-pointer. Otsuka converted and it was 25-10.
With nine minutes to go, and Samoa back up to 15 players, Nao Ando, the replacement, scored Japan’s bonus-point fourth try. Otsuka converted to make it 32-10 before their scrum-half Megumi Abe was named the Mastercard player of the match.