Japan grind through to World Cup
JAPAN will represent Asia at the third Rugby World Cup next year in South Africa.
The 26-11 victory by Japan over South Korea, in the final of the 14th Asian Rugby Football Tournament yesterday at the Cheras Stadium, might benefit the region in more ways than one.
Before the game kicked off, Japan's rugby strongman and leading Asian Rugby Union official Shiggy Konno said if Japan won, his country would make a bid to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
'But we have to win. If we don't, it will be silly for us to make a bid,' said Konno.
His first wish came true as discipline and the brute strength of their overseas-born players enabled Japan to carve out victory in a stop-start final which strangely saw little of the traditional running game the two teams are known for.
With the winners booking a berth for the World Cup, Japan will now go to Bloemfontein where they will be joined by New Zealand, Ireland and Wales in Pool C.
It is almost as if Japan have got the copyright on representing Asia at the World Cup. In the previous two World Cups, Japan carried Asia's flag. In 1987, they were invited to represent Asia. Last time, in 1991, they won a qualifying tournament in Tokyo to get their ticket.
Despite the neutral ground conditions, and the support from the majority of the 8,000-strong crowd, the Koreans failed to plant firm foundations towards a much-desired victory.
They lacked the mental discipline and the physical capacity to stop Japan's forward-oriented style of play.
The dominance of Japan was made plain by the fact that in the first half, the Koreans failed to enter their opponents' 22 at all. They were too busy defending their own goalline, which was under constant threat from the marauding Tongan number eight Sione Latu, Tongan flanker Sinali Latu and the huge Fijian lock Bruce Ferguson.
These three were the brains behind the relentless Japanese attacks. Their initial forays were superbly carried on by an efficient Japanese backline where fullback Tsutomu Matsuda was simply outstanding.
Grit and national pride saw the Koreans, however, hold back the Japanese to a 3-0 lead until just before the break, when off a ruck Sione Latu broke on the blindside and fed winger Yoshihito Yoshida the try-scoring pass.
Fly-half Keiji Hirose, who had been successful with only one out of four kicks at goal until then, was on target with the conversion to give Japan a 10-0 which they increased by a further three points right on half-time.
The whistle-happy refereeing continued in the second half as the game stumbled from one penalty to another. The Koreans reduced the lead to 16-11 with 20 minutes left, with all the points coming from fullback Yoo Jung-hyeon, two penalties and a converted try (resulting from a quick counter-attack).
But their comeback bid stalled when a penalty, which was originally awarded, was disallowed after the referee had consulted with the touch judge. That was the last straw for the dis-heartened Koreans who throughout the game had problems with the officiating.
Disgruntled and unhappy, more grief befell the Koreans as the Japanese delivered the coup de grace with another try by Yoshida and a late penalty from Hirose.