Japan yesterday conjured a hat-trick of magical scores to floor Six Nations side Italy 34-17 in the first game of their two-match 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, Japan.
Japan flyhalf Yu Tamura made six out of seven kicks in a confident performance for next year’s World Cup hosts.
“That was Test match rugby — this is what it’s all about,” Japan captain Michael Leitch said. “We had pressure moments during the game, which we capitalized on. I’m proud of the team and how they handled the game.”
“Obviously we weren’t good enough today,” Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini said. “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 defense, because they scored too many tries.”
The teams meet again in Kobe next weekend.
Meanwhile in Auckland, the All Blacks scored 44 unanswered points in the second half as they came from behind to hammer France 52-11 in the opening game of their three-Test series.
Rieko Ioane’s double was among eight tries for the world champions, who were 8-11 down at halftime before the game-changing introduction of forward Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Seven of New Zealand’s tries came after the man mountain, who was not even on the All Blacks’ radar a few weeks ago, came on five minutes into the second period to assert much-needed scrum dominance.
Tu’inukuafe’s introduction coincided with a marginal yellow card for French lock Paul Gabrillagues for a hit on Ryan Crotty, at which point the floodgates opened.
Codie Taylor, Ben Smith, Damian McKenzie, Ardie Savea and Ngani Laumape all scored tries in the second period, along with Ioane’s double, as the All Blacks stretched their Eden Park unbeaten run to 41 games.
“Did we think we were going to score that many points? No, but I’m pretty happy with the way we ended up playing,” Hansen said. “It was our first game of the season and we don’t want to get too excited about where we are at. We’ve got two more Test matches.”
Hansen did believe the All Blacks received a lucky break with the yellow card, saying he did not think Gabrillagues’ tackle deserved time in the sin bin.
French coach Jacques Brunel, while accepting his side were outplayed in the second half, would not comment on the lock’s high shot.
However, he was incensed that Sam Cane escaped punishment for a similar incident that saw Remy Grosso taken to hospital for a check-up.
At times it was an intensely tough game and French fullback Maxime Medard will have nightmares about his last-ditch attempt to block Laumape when the All Blacks replacement charged at the line.
In Brisbane, David Pocock returned to Test rugby with a bang to help Australia to a 18-9 win over Six Nations champions Ireland and give the Wallabies a 1-0 lead.
The openside flanker, who sat out last season on a sabbatical, scored Australia’s second try in the 72nd minute and was a constant menace at the breakdown as the Irish fell to a first defeat in 13 Tests.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley scored the rest of Australia’s points at Lang Park with a try, a conversion and two penalties, the second of which gave Australia a two-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
Flyhalf Joey Carbery, getting a rare start ahead of Johnny Sexton, kicked three penalties for the Irish in a tight match that will only whet the appetite for the remaining Tests in Melbourne and Sydney.
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