ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 01, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 53

Japan push 'Classic' All Blacks hard in 15-13 loss

TOKYO, May 31 (Reuters) - Japan were beaten 15-13 by a “Classic” All Blacks side on Saturday in their final warm-up before the start of the Pacific Nations Cup next week. Japan's “Brave Blossoms” emerged with credit from a game played in cold and drizzle at Tokyo's National Stadium and were seconds away from taking a 5-0 lead into halftime.

Japan winger Kosuke Endo had burst clear for a 16th-minute try but hooker Anton Oliver drove over seconds after the halftime buzzer to restore parity. Fullback Ben Blair successfully converted to give the New Zealanders a 7-5 advantage at the break, and Doug Howlett raced clear to make it 12-5 for the Kiwis soon after the restart.

However, the visitors were immediately pegged back when wing Hirotoki Onozawa dived over the line two minutes later. A Blair penalty made it 15-10 before New Zealand-born James Arlidge reduced the deficit again by punishing the visitors for a knock-on in front of their posts but Japan could get no closer.“I'm proud of the players. I'm very pleased with the commitment and the tackling,” Japan coach John Kirwan told reporters.

“We were down on our own goal line for 10 minutes and we kept bashing the best players in the world. They were tired because we were smashing them.” 'PERFECT PREPARATION'. The New Zealander added: “We have great attacking abilities in this team. Onozawa and Endo showed that today. It was perfect preparation for next week.” Japan, who easily won the inaugural Asian Five Nations tournament earlier this month, face Australia A in their opening Pacific Nations fixture in Fukuoka next weekend.

Asia's top side have made great strides since Kirwan's appointment early last year, bowing out of the 2007 World Cup with their pride intact after a 12-12 draw with Canada and a close 35-31 defeat by Fiji.

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