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Last-gasp drop-goal saves Welsh blushes against Japan

Sam Davies was the hero as the hosts snatched victory at the death in Cardiff.

Sam Davies celebrates his match-winning kick.
Sam Davies celebrates his match-winning kick.
Image: David Davies

SAM DAVIES HELD his nerve to hit a drop-goal with just nine seconds remaining to seal a 33-30 triumph for Wales over Japan at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

The Brave Blossoms looked to have snatched a draw after a late try from replacement wing Amanaki Lotoahea, before Davies stepped up to break Japanese hearts.

Wales were never in complete control despite scores from Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton.

Japan’s wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Akihito Yamada crossed to keep the visitors in touch, with outside-half Yu Tamura adding 13 points from the kicking tee.

But 23-year-old Davies landed the drop-goal on only his second cap to steal victory in the most dramatic of circumstances right at the death.

Japan, who only fielded five survivors from their famous Rugby World Cup triumph over South Africa, made a positive start at the Principality Stadium.

Scott Baldwin’s overthrown lineout allowed the Brave Blossoms to swing the ball wide, but Leigh Halfpenny, who had switched places with Liam Williams onto the right wing, stopped Fukuoka 10 metres short.

Wales v Japan - Autumn International - Principality Stadium Source: David Davies

However, Japan did take the lead moments later after Jonathan Davies high-tackled full-back Kotaro Matsushima, allowing Tamura to give Japan a 3-0 lead.

Wales full-back Liam Williams was then sent to the sin-bin for blocking Yamada, who looked to be on his way to the try-line after Alex Cuthbert failed to deal with his chip ahead.

Tamura kicked his second penalty to make it 6-0, before Wales struck back.

Outside-half Gareth Anscombe looped a perfectly weighted pass to flanker Lydiate, who charged over at the corner for his first try in 62 Test matches.

And Wales reasserted their dominance up-front after 24 minutes as they drove back the Japanese scrum to set up their second score.

The ball was worked to Jonathan Davies, who was tackled, but found Roberts with an offload, and there was no stopping the giant centre. Halfpenny converted to make it 14-6.

But just when Wales were in complete control, Anscombe, who had impressed on his first start at fly-half, threw a loose pass that was scooped up by Yamada, and the wing raced home from 40 metres.

Timothy Lafaele converted to cut the gap to a single point at half-time despite the Welsh dominance.

Wales restored their four-point lead seconds after the restart thanks to the boot of Halfpenny, after the Japan scrum creaked once more.

Wales v Japan - Autumn International - Principality Stadium Source: David Davies

Alun Wyn Jones injected some much-needed go-forward when he charged though a gap in midfield and found skipper Warburton, who crashed over for the try on 52 minutes.

Halfpenny converted, but Japan would not be beaten. Jamie Joseph’s men showed their slick handling skills to freeze the Welsh defence as hooker Shota Horie found Tamura, who combined with Malgene Ilaua to send Fukuoka over at the corner.

Tamura converted to make it 24-20, and Wales showed their nerves as they opted to kick a penalty in front of the posts instead of going for the try.

But Japan stayed in touch with another Tamura penalty after Samson Lee went offside.

The tighthead prop was replaced after giving away a second offside penalty, but his infringement went unpunished as Tamura missed the target.

Instead it was Wales who moved 30-23 ahead thanks to Halfpenny’s third penalty of the afternoon.

Japan looked to have snatched a draw when no.8 Amanaki Mafi charged down the right wing and somehow offloaded to replacement wing Lotoahea, who side-stepped full-back Williams to score.

Tamura landed the conversion to level the scores at 30-30 with seven minutes remaining, but Davies broke Japan’s resilience with the last-gasp drop-goal.

- © AFP, 2016

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