Pacific Nations Cup
Junior All Blacks see off tenacious Japan
June 23, 2009
Junior All Blacks flanker Victor Vito takes a pass in training, Auckland, New Zealand, June 9, 2009
Flanker Victor Vito grabbed two tries for the Junior All Blacks in their victory over Japan © Getty Images

Samoa and the Junior All Blacks both registered impressive victories in their latest Pacific Nations Cup matches.

The Junior All Blacks went from casting shadows to chasing them before beating Japan in Fiji. The New Zealanders won 52-21 Lautoka despite a hugely indifferent performance. However, the result maintained their unbeaten record after three matches in this year's four-team competition also featuring the national sides from Fiji and Tonga.

It appeared all too easy for the Junior All Blacks in the first half as they scored six tries to lead 40-0 before they went off the boil and Japan redoubled their efforts. The Japanese caused some embarrassment for their more fancied opponents by scoring three converted tries in the third quarter to peg the gap back to 21-40 before the New Zealanders had the final say with the last two tries of the match.

Coached by All Blacks great John Kirwan, Japan had their moments in the first half but they were few and far between against a Junior All Blacks side who revelled in the freedom gifted them by the weak tackling Japanese. The New Zealanders were too physical at the breakdown where the loose forward trio of Sione Lauaki, Victor Vito and Alando Soakai dominated.

Vito, a former sevens star with higher aspirations in the 15-man code, particularly enjoyed the open nature of the contest. His two tries were both special, the first coming in the 12th minute when he picked up a loose Japanese pass, palmed off one would be tackler and sprinted 60m to the line. His second, in the 33rd minute, saw Vito chip ahead with his left foot and casually regather en route to his team's fifth try.

They had time for one more before halftime, too, with Lauaki the beneficiary of a midfield break by fullback Israel Dagg. In between this action, first five-eighth Colin Slade, lock Craig Clarke and wing Hosea Gear all crossed for tries.

The New Zealanders dropped their standards early in the second spell when Japan raised their spirits as captain and No.8 Takashi Kikutani scored a try via a lineout drive. They then lost prop John Schwalger temporarily when he was sinbinned for a professional foul in the 54th minute, further disrupting their increasingly disjointed efforts.

Japan continued to press and the combination between two of their New Zealand backs, Ryan Nicholas and Jack Tarrant, saw them double their score midway through the spell. Second five-eighth Nicholas pierced the defence on an angled run and floated a high pass for wing Tarrant to accept before dotting down. Nicholas added his second sideline conversion for good measure.

Centre Koji Taira then added to the New Zealanders' discomfort when he squeezed through a small midfield hole for his team's third try in the 62nd minute. Only now did the Junior All Blacks lift their intensity.

Stung by the second half reversal in fortunes, they upped the tempo, attacking to the far right before spreading the ball to the far left where Lauaki was left the simple duty of strolling across the tryline. Gear had the final word in the dying seconds with his second try to enable the New Zealanders to raise their half century.

In the day's other game, Samoa outscored Tonga four tries to one on their way to a 27-13 victory in a bruising encounter at Churchill Park.

Tongan fly-half Pierre Hola gave his side an early three-point lead and, although Samoa responded with two first half tries, their inability to land the conversions and capitalise on further opportunities that came their way meant that they failed to exert full control on the game.

Centre Gavin Williams crossed as early as the sixth minute to edge the Samoans ahead but Hola's boot was the next to strike in the 37th minute to restore Tonga's lead. A minute before the break Samoa number eight and captain George Stowers powered over for a second unconverted try.

The Samoans were more clinical after the break and quickly into their stride as left wing Sailosi Tagicakibau scored as early as the first minute, a try converted by Ki Anufe. Hola erred with a penalty chance on 53 minutes and, perhaps sensing the Tongans' deflated spirits, the Manu side struck with a fourth try two minutes later through Junior Poluleuligaga to make the score 24-6.

Replacement Muli Kaufusi crossed for the Tongans' sole try on 62 minutes but the Samoans' defence held firm against some further spirited attacks and Gavin Williams' sweetly struck penalty rounded off the scoring on 73 minutes.


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