Japan made history yesterday by beating Six Nations champions Wales 23-8 for their first-ever victory over a major rugby nation in nearly 80 years of international competition.
Second-half tries from foreign-born players Craig Wing and Michael Broadhurst helped rewrite the record books for Japan against a depleted Wales, who were missing their head coach and 15 players because of the British and Irish Lions tour.
The result is a boost for rugby in Japan, the hosts of the 2019 World Cup who have played in all seven editions of the tournament so far, but have won only once, against minnows Zimbabwe in 1991.
Japan played their first international fixtures in the 1930s and they first took on a Wales XV in Cardiff in 1973. In nine Test matches with Wales, Japan have been on the wrong end of some giant scores, including a 98-0 blow-out in 2004.
However, steeled by last week’s narrow 22-18 defeat, Japan edged the first half 6-3 thanks to the boot of fullback Ayumu Goromaru, and after a Welsh try on 44 minutes they hit back with two of their own before wrapping up a worthy win.
In hot and humid conditions at Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Stadium, the hosts took an early lead through a Goromaru penalty, but visiting flyhalf Dan Biggar leveled the scores before Welsh wing Harry Robinson came close to the opening try.
However, a long-range potshot from Goromaru six minutes before halftime gave Japan their three-point lead at the break.
At the start of the second half Robinson again went close before left wing Tom Prydie finally crossed, following great work from replacement back Rhys Patchell and a long pass from Biggar.
However, Japan quickly regained the initiative at 13-8 when Wing, a former rugby league international for Australia, went over after steady buildup play involving a number of phases.
Wales responded by making a raft of substitutions, but they were forced into some last-ditch defending when Robinson and Liam Williams combined to halt Japanese No. 8 Takashi Kikutani just short of the line.
New Zealand-born Broadhurst extended Japan’s lead when he went over in the right corner for their second try on the hour mark, with Goromaru slotting the extras for a 20-8 lead with 20 minutes to go.
Welsh hopes took another hit when they were denied a try after Patchell pounced on a grubber kick by Biggar, only to be judged not to have grounded the ball.
With three minutes left, Goromaru landed his third penalty to make sure of a win, which prompted celebrations in Tokyo and will also lift 15th-ranked Japan in their fight to join rugby’s top 10 nations by the next World Cup in 2015.