Rugby World Cup 2007
Fiji battle past Japan
September 12, 2007
Akapusi Qera scores a try during his Man of the match Performance for Fiji
© Getty Images
Fiji beat Japan 35-31 in their Rugby World Cup Pool B clash at the Stade Municipal in Toulouse. Gloucester-bound lock Akapusi Qera grabbed two tries as Fiji held off a tremendous effort by Japan to grab their opening World Cup Pool B victory.
The lead changed hands six times before the Fijians eventually clinched a bonus-point victory but most of the plaudits went to Japan, who sent out a clear warning to Wales ahead of their clash at the Millennium Stadium next Thursday. Japan coach John Kirwan changed his entire starting XV following Saturday's 91-3 defeat to Australia and they were a completely different proposition.
They harried the Fijians into a series of handling errors, turning the tables on their fancied opponents with frequent turnovers, and three times held the lead as they threatened to pull off the second upset of the tournament. Fly-half Nicky Little, Fiji's most-capped player, became the 12th man to pass 600 points in international rugby union when he opened the scoring with a fourth minute penalty but little else went right for his side.
Centre Shotaru Onishi levelled the scores with an 18th-minute penalty and put his side in front with a second 11 minutes before the break and, but for some poor execution, the Japanese would have been ahead by half-time. Fiji's opening try - the only one of the first half - came against the run of play when Qera picked up a stray Japanese pass and went 80 minutes for an opportunist score seven minutes before the interval.
Little added the goal but Fiji were reduced to 14 men on the stroke of half-time when winger Vilimoni Delasau was sin-binned for foul play and Onishi cut the deficit to a single point with his third penalty. Japan, who lost 41-13 to Fiji in the last World Cup, found another purple patch at the start of the second half and Onishi kicked a fourth penalty awarded for offside as the lead changed hands four times in a 12-minute spell.
Qera grabbed his second try on 48 minutes, doubling his tally for his country after supporting a break from Saracens scrum-half Mosese Rauluni, the Fiji captain, but Japan's New Zealand-born lock Luke Thompson hit back with a delightful sidestep for his side's first try.
Onishi's fifth goal from as many attempts made it 19-17 but Little edged his side back in front with a penalty before Leicester centre Seru Rabeni took a pass from the returning Delasau to score Fiji's third try. Little was off-target for the first time and it looked as though the miss might be costly when Japan prop Tomokazu Soma was driven over for his first Test try on 61 minutes for his side's second try. That brought Kirwan's men to within a point but Onishi, too, lost his 100% record as he attempted to snatch back the lead.
The game was eventually settled when lock Kele Leawere, who ironically plays his club rugby in Japan, went over for the bonus-point try on 70 minutes but that was not the end of the drama. Little's penalty made it 35-24 but Thompson went in for his second try, his fourth in seven Test appearances, and Fiji were forced to defend desperately as Japan piled on the pressure in the closing moments.
Japan: (9) 31
Fiji: (10) 35
Japan: Aruga, Loamanu, Imamura, Onishi, Endo, Robins, Yoshida, Nishiura, Matsubara, Soma, H. Ono, Thompson, Makiri, O'Reilly, Miuchi.
Fiji: Ratuvou, Delasau, Rabeni, Bai, Neivua, Little, Rauluni, Dewes, Koto, Qiodravu, Leawere, Lewaravu, Naevo, Qera, Koyamaibole.
Replacements: Sauturaga, Railomo, Talei, Ratuva, Daunivucu, Lovobalavu, Ligairi.