Māori All Blacks defeat Japan XV in Tokyo

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Garden-Bachop, bound for Japan for the next phase of his young career, was teammates with a dozen of the Māori All Blacks in tonight’s roster when he made two appearances against Ireland in 2022.

Conditions at Tokyo’s historic Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium were oppressively hot, and the Māori felt the heat even before kick-off. Rugby World Cup-winning prop Joe Moody was a late withdrawal, replaced by Ollie Norris

The hosts' scrum and lineout were accurate and hostile throughout and after five minutes hooker Mamoru Harada sailed into a gaping hole after exhaustive work from his pack. Harada is a member of the Toshiba Brave Lupus who won Japan’s premier championship.

Japan’s threats weren’t confined exclusively to their forwards. Rookie fullback Yoshitaka Yaaki was initially electric and swift switches confused the Māori defense.

But it was defense that weathered the storm. There were pivotal turnovers by halfback Sam Nock and locks Laghlan McWhannell and Isaia Walker-Leawere when the Māori were under siege inside the 22.

In the 18th minute winger Baylin Sullivan ran down opposite Viliame Tuidraki in a tackle that forced Tuidraki to drop the ball while over the try line.

The Māori were ill-disciplined with blindside flanker Cameron Suafoa and reserve second five Rameka Poihipi yellow carded. Poihipi replaced Daniel Rona who hobbled off after 25 minutes.

The Māori All Blacks did create something from nothing in the ninth minute. Nock recovered a ball that bounced awkwardly on the half-volley sending it to the right wing of Josh Moorby who sprinted clear. Following a 30m dash, Moorby was rundown by desperate cover defense five meters out. Nock was forced to clear the ruck, so Cullen Grace deputised at halfback and provided a pass for Blues lock Cameron Suafoa to crash over.

The Māori eventually settled into a pattern of patience and directness not dissimilar to Super Rugby Pacific winners the Blues.

In the 32nd minute, after eight phases of grunt, hooker Kurt Eklund crashed over. Eight minutes later loosehead prop Shogo Muira was penalised at a scrum. Grace caught the five-meter lineout which saw a Japan contingent submarine left opening a hole for skipper Billy Harmon to sail through.

The Japan XV made a horror beginning to the second half. An up-and-under kick was collected in an offside position. From the penalty, the Māori reemployed the lineout drive and Sullivan reaped the fruits of being unmarked.

Japan’s execution became more ragged as they chased the expanding deficit. The Māori kicked the ball more than 500 meters further than the hosts as territory became a headache.

The Māori weren’t all bash and smash. In a spontaneous burst, debutant Tana Tuhakaraina galloped 40m, passing to Toiroa Tahuriorangi who supplied Poihipi with a finish.

First-five Rivez Reihana grew in stature throughout and a dummy, go and fend in the 69th minute trigged another long breakout with Poihipi again on hand to apply the cherry. 

The Japan XV had eight players yet to be capped as full internationals, while 12 of those already capped have featured in less than 10 test matches each, including five who played their maiden test in last weekend’s 17-52 loss to England.

The Māori All Blacks start the Ross Filipo era with a win against a new and often challenging opponent.

Māori All Blacks: 36 (Cameron Suafoa, Kurt Eklund, Billy Harmon, Bailyn Sullivan, Rameka Poihipi tries; Poihipi 2, Rivez Reihana cons) Japan XV:  10: (Mamoru Harada, Koga Nezuka tries) HT: 17-5


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