A new stadium was added to the list of test match host venues on Saturday as World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019 kicked off with wins for Japan and Samoa.
Japan turned in a performance worthy of their first match at Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium – built as part of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami post-disaster recovery effort – to hold off a second-half fightback from Fiji, a side they hadn't beaten in eight years previously.
At Apia Park, meanwhile, Tonga were unable to do the same as ill-discipline cost them dear in the final quarter against Samoa, the 'Ikale Tahi losing 25-17.
The opening round of the six-team tournament will come to a conclusion in Glendale, Colorado when the USA take on rivals Canada on Sunday.
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Japan have beaten Fiji on home soil for the first time in 25 years：— Oliver Trenchard (@OliverTrenchard) July 27, 2019
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2019: ?? 34-21 ??#PNC2019
Fiji 21-34 Japan
Japan put down an early marker for Rugby World Cup 2019 as they opened the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium with an impressive win over Fiji.
The hosts were playing at the ground, which is one of 12 host venues for Japan 2019, for the first time and raced into an 8-0 lead as Kenki Fukuoka latched onto a Yu Tamura kick through, to add a try to the latter’s early penalty.
Fiji came back into the contest and showcased their counter-attacking ability, Levani Botia rounding off a flowing team move to score a try that Ben Volavola converted. But from that moment Japan seized control of the contest.
An incisive inside ball from scrum-half Kaito Shigeno allowed Kotaro Matsushima to score before the wing turned provider for Timothy Lafaele, who notched his side’s third try.
Filipo Nakosi received a yellow card just before the half-hour mark, after which Kazuki Himeno touched down to secure the hosts a try-scoring bonus-point.
Japan lost debutant captain Lappies Labuschagne to injury before the break, and Fiji narrowed the half-time deficit to 29-14 as Sam Matavesi crashed over for his first try.
Matsushima scored his second try of the match to extend the hosts’ lead before Matavesi completed a brace of his own as the game ticked into its final quarter.
But bar a few nervous moments for Japan, the Pacific Islanders were unable to eat further into their lead as Jamie Joseph’s side held out for a resounding opening victory.
“It was a great occasion, we really enjoyed the game. We made a few mistakes but overall we’re really excited, this was the first step and we look forward to the next game,” Japan captain Labuschagne said.
“We wanted to speed the game up and in the first half we played really well.”
Tonga 17-25 Samoa
Tonga were left to rue two second-half yellow cards as Samoa came from behind to secure victory at Apia Park.
Just over 10 minutes were on the clock when former Worcester Warriors and Bath centre Cooper Vuna crossed the whitewash. James Faiva was unable to add extras, allowing Ulupano Seutini to reduce the arrears to two points with a 22nd-minute penalty.
Johnny Vaili then missed the opportunity to give Samoa the lead and on the stroke of half-time prop Ben Tameifuna touched down to extend the Tonga advantage to 10-3.
That lead was wiped out early in the second half as Seutini converted Alapati Leiua’s try before adding a penalty to nudge Samoa in front.
On the hour mark replacement hooker Sefo Sakalia crashed over to score a try that was converted by Faiva, and put Tonga back into the lead. However, with less than 13 minutes of the match remaining Fotu Lokotui was sent to the sin bin and Tonga were reduced to 13 men just three minutes later as Sakalia was also shown yellow.
Samoa took full advantage of their opponents’ indiscipline, as Afaesetiti Amosa and Belgium Tuatagaloa scored tries in the final 10 minutes to confirm victory.
“I think the penalties and the two yellow cards did it for us in the end,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said.
“It’s good to just get a go together under our belts and that’s the main thing. I don’t think anyone has played in those conditions before so it’s good to experience but hopefully, it doesn’t happen again but like I said we’ll take some positives and some things to work on.”
Samoa coach Steve Jackson said: “I’m pretty proud of the effort the boys put in. In these trying conditions we knew it was going to be tough. We knew that they had a really big forward pack.
“They’ve got to be proud of the way they played the game and the decisions they made and their game management from our players.”
Tonga photo credit: Trina Edwards