OITA – Japan conjured a hat trick of magical scores to floor Six Nations side Italy 34-17 on Saturday in the first game of their two-match rugby series.
The Brave Blossoms, who finished with four tries to Italy’s two, produced moments of breathtaking skill as Amanaki Mafi, Kenki Fukuoka and Lomano Lemeki scored for the home side in Oita, western Japan.
Japan flyhalf Yu Tamura slotted six out of seven kicks in a confident performance for the 2019 World Cup hosts.
“That was Test-match rugby – this is what it’s all about,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
“We had pressure moments during the game, which we capitalised on. I’m proud of the team and how they handled the game.”
The Italians, currently ranked 14th in the world, three places below Japan, began brightly in balmy conditions, prop Tiziano Pasquali opening the scoring with an opportunistic try after 15 minutes.
But a slick exchange of passes between Leitch and the impressive Fukuoka allowed Mafi to restore parity.
Fukuoka added another try for the Brave Blossoms after 28 minutes when the jet-heeled wing escaped the clutches of two beefy Italians to score.
Tamura slotted a penalty before Italy flanker Braam Steyn bulldozed over for a try, converted by Tommaso Allan, to reduce Japan’s halftime lead to 17-14.
Allan and Tamura traded penalties early in the second half before Japan blew it wide open with one for the highlights reel.
Tamura intelligently kicked wide for Shota Horie to touch the ball back inside for Lemeki to complete a peach of a try.
Kotaro Matsushima added a fourth try for Japan after 65 minutes to dash Italian hopes of a comeback.
“Obviously we weren’t good enough today,” said Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini.
“It was a tough match and Japan played really well, so congratulations to them. We have many areas to improve on, but first of all in defence, because they scored too many tries.”
The teams meet again in Kobe next weekend.