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Pacific Nations Cup wins for Ireland's World Cup opponents Japan and Samoa

Both teams are in Rugby World Cup Pool A alongside Joe Schmidt’s side for the upcoming tournament in Japan.

KOTARO MATSUSHIMA SCORED two tries as Japan beat Fiji 34-21 in a confidence-boosting win ahead of their home World Cup.

The Brave Blossoms bagged five tries to Fiji’s three in their opening match of the Pacific Nations Cup, two months before Japan hosts the first World Cup to be held in Asia.

PA-24407826 Japan's Kotaro Matsushima. Source: Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images

Earlier, Samoa opened the tournament with a 25-17 come-from-behind win against Tonga in a match played in a greasy mudbath in Apia.

Japan, hosting their first Test match at World Cup venue Kamaishi, which was ravaged by the 2011 tsunami disaster, took an early lead. After a Yu Tamura penalty, Kenki Fukuoka dived over for their first try before Levani Botia crossed at the other end for Fiji.

However, Matsushima scored his first try shortly afterwards before Timothy Lafaele and Kazuki Himeno made it four tries to Japan in the opening half-hour. Matsushima’s second effort, in the second half, rounded off the scoring for the hosts in front of 13,000 fans.

“I’m so glad to win against this wonderful team,” fly-half Tamura said. “We outperformed them in contact,” he added.

Captain Michael Leitch said: “We really felt progress in our team. Fiji were really tough.”

“People’s strife was our motivation,” added Leitch, referring to Kamaishi’s efforts to recover from the 2011 disaster.

Kamaishi’s World Cup stadium is on the site of two schools devastated by the tsunami, where 400 pupils managed a miraculous escape.

Earlier, Tonga — hampered by the late withdrawal of the inspirational Nasi Manu — had two players in the sin-bin when Afasetiti Amosa and then Belgium Tuatagaloa swung the game Samoa’s way with tries in the closing minutes.

Manu, who was cleared of testicular cancer only last month, was set to cap his remarkable recovery by captaining Tonga, but a few hours before kick-off the Tonga Rugby Union tweeted that the affable 30-year-old was injured and out of the tournament.

Nasi Manu Tonga were hampered by the absence of Benetton's Nasi Manu. Source: Ashley Crowden/INPHO

Torrential rain before kick-off reduced Apia Park to a quagmire which affected the game as a spectacle, despite a willingness by both sides to throw the ball around.

Samoa dominated possession and territory but were kept out in the first half by the staunch defence of Tonga who led 10-3 at the turn, with two tries coming when they reverted to wet-weather rugby.

The first was initiated by a raking kick downfield by Samisoni Fisilau, with Cooper Vuna winning the race for the ball to toe it over the line to score. Human battering-ram Ben Tamiefuna scored the second from a close-range charge through the Samoan pack.

A short lineout early in the second half finally exposed a hole in the Tongan defence, with the debutant Amosa strolling through a gap to put Alapati Leiua away for the try.

Fly-half Ulapano Seuteni, another of the four Samoans playing their first Test, landed the conversion to level the scores and then kicked a close-range penalty to put the hosts ahead for the first time.

Replacement hooker Sefo Sakalia scored under the posts to regain the lead for Tonga, but then undid the good work by being yellow-carded for pulling down a maul, when his side was already a man down following a Onehunga Havili no-arms tackle.

© – AFP, 2019

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