Sakura Fifteen Record Historic Victory Over Italy

The Sakura Fifteen recorded an historic, first-ever victory over Italy, away in Italy, on Saturday, 30 September. Following a dominant first-half performance, Japan ran out to a solid 7-22 lead at the break. Le Azzurre then came back strongly in the second-half, and looked like snatching the win, however the visitors were able to hold off the charging Italians for a final score of 24-25.

Ranked eighth in World Rugby’s rankings, Italy has always been considered a benchmark team by the 11th ranked Japanese. The two teams also met in the pool stages of last year’s Rugby World Cup where Le Azzurre recorded a dominant 21-8 victory. Last night’s result was surely sweet revenge for the Sakura Fifteen following their disappointing showing at the tournament in New Zealand.

The match held further significance with Japan and Italy set to meet again on 13 October in the opening round of WXV in Cape Town, South Africa. With Japan having defeated the Fijiana in both of their recent home test matches, as well as recording victories away to Kazakhstan and Spain, the Sakura Fifteen go into the inaugural WXV tournament with renewed confidence and momentum, off the back of their six-match winning streak.

Commenting after the Italy match, Sakura Fifteen Head Coach, Lesley McKenzie said:

“We’re very pleased as we knew Italy at home in Parma would be very difficult. The first half had some sparkle for us in terms of the way we were able to take control, however there was no possibility that Italy would emerge from the change rooms and not look to punish us for the first half.

“I’m really pleased in terms of our management and character, and even though we had a few lapses, we didn’t allow that to control us. The best part of the game was that both teams fielded young and experimental line-ups. It was a really wonderful contest between two young teams in Parma, and it sets things up nicely for our next match in Cape Town.”

Sakura Fifteen Captain, Iroha Nagata added:

“In the first half we played the rugby we wanted to play. In the second half our opponents carried a lot, we were unable to win the collisions and gain ground and couldn’t create momentum. Italy attacked us hard, and our defence wasn’t working so well. My message to the team was to remember what we have been doing, keep connecting, and to work on our positioning. Looking towards WXV, I want to improve our precision and focus on maintaining pressure on our opponents for the full 80 minutes.”

Following their opening WXV match on 13 October at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch, the Sakura Fifteen then take on Samoa on Saturday, 21 October, followed by Scotland on Friday, 27 October, with both matches taking place at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town. The entire WXV tournament will be broadcast on RugbyPass TV, World Rugby’s new global streaming platform.