Japan XV Crowned World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2024 Champions

The Japan XV have claimed a stunning clean sweep of three bonus-point victories to take out this year’s Pacific Challenge in the Samoan capital, Apia. Having already seen off Manuma Samoa and the Fiji Warriors, Japan defeated Tonga A in their final match on Saturday, 20 April. Needing the win to secure the Championship and to replicate Japan’s heroics in 2020, the Japan XV put in a dominant 11 try to three performance for an impressive 65-15 final score.

The impressive Japanese backline put on a truly electric display from the outset, playing fast-paced, high-precision, attacking rugby. Winger Kohaku Ebisawa scored a hat-trick within the first 30 minutes helping Japan get out to a 31-0 lead before Tonga staged a brief fightback in the final 10 minutes of the first half. They scored three unanswered tries for a halftime score of 31-15, giving a sense that the game was far from won for the Japanese.

Japan started the second-half strongly, dominating possession, attack, and the scoreboard. They scored 34 unanswered points across the half against a Tongan side that struggled to contain the speed and precision of the relentless Japanese attack. Full-back Yoshitaka Yazaki scored a try to bring his tournament total to three tries, while hooker Kenji Sato scored a second-half brace to bring his total across three matches to an impressive five tries.

Following the match, Naoya Okubo, Japan U20 Head Coach and Head Coach of the Pacific Challenge 2024 Japan XV commented:

“I’m delighted for the team that they achieved their goal of winning all three matches and claiming the Championship. It was an incredibly challenging tournament played in some really tough conditions. We felt the impact of our four over-age players who helped drive the team forward. We now set our sights on preparing for the U20 Championship this July in Scotland. We will continue to work hard to win that trophy, which is now our next big goal for the year.”

Number-eight and Captain Yoshiaki Taian added:

“We felt the support from back home in Japan that helped drive us to win all three matches. We have really improved and strengthened as a team throughout the tournament and are now ready to challenge for the U20 Championship trophy. We will continue to do our best, to keep improving and getting stronger, to make Japan proud.”

Saturday’s game followed two equally impressive displays against Manuma Samoa and the Fiji Warriors. In their opening match the Japan XV put in a stunning performance, running in 8 tries to down Samoa 5-48. In hot and steamy conditions, the visitors took control early through their efficient defence and high-tempo, ball-in-hand attack, never giving their hosts a chance to get into the game.

In their second match, Japan lined up against Fiji, the reigning tournament Champions who won their tenth championship at last year’s competition. Japan started strongly, building up a comfortable lead which they held throughout the match. In the second half, Fiji started showing their class, breaking down the Japanese defence through a combination of hard running and physicality. In the final 10 minutes Fiji ran in two converted tries to snatch a 43-40 lead with just two minutes left on the clock.

It looked as if Japan would rue squandering their early lead and letting the Fijians back into the match. However, in the final play, Japan turned the ball over from a Fijian attack and sent a kick deep into the opposition’s 22. Seeing one last opportunity, they miraculously regathered possession and off an ensuing ruck, sent a long ball out right to an unmarked Tasuku Masuyama who dotted down unopposed in the righthand corner. Japan missed the side line conversion but had done enough to earn a rousing 43-45 victory.

World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2024 Match Schedule

WED 10 APRIL, 2024
#1 Tonga A v FIji Warriors
#2 Manuma Samoa v JAPAN XV
MON 15 APRIL, 2024
#3 Fiji Warriors v JAPAN XV
#4 Manuma Samoa v Tonga A
SAT 20 APRIL, 2024
#5 JAPAN XV v Tonga A
#6 Manuma Samoa v Fiji Warriors