Fijians struggle to fly

13th Sep 2007, 11:15

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Akapusi Qera charges away for Fiji's first try

Akapusi Qera charges away for Fiji's first try

Fiji, like many others, got their World Cup off to a stuttery start on Wednesday, beating Japan 35-31 in a pulsating clash in Toulouse.

Fiji, like many others, got their World Cup off to a successful but stuttery start on Wednesday, beating Japan 35-31 in a pulsating clash in Toulouse.

After a dull first half, the second half thrilled as Fiji threatened to pull away, but Japan bounced back time and time again to set up a grandstand finish, that had the crowd standing on their seats as Japan nearly pulled off what would have been a memorable victory.

Only Wales, who scored 37 points in defeat against New Zealand in Australia four years ago, have scored more in World Cup history and lost.

That's not to say this match won't be remembered - far from it in fact. Once you take out the diabolical first half, the spectators would have left knowing they got their full value for money.

The conditions demanded a running game of rugby, and with a side like Fiji taking centre stage at the Municipal Stadium - where Toulouse have thrilled so often - it was disappointing to see a first half wasted on so many errors from both sides.

With Japan taking most of the initiative on attack, it was their annoying inability to finish off their moves with the ball constantly finding the ground rather than the player.

Both sides had to rely on their kickers to get any form of points on the board with Fiji's Nicky Little having a tremendous day with the boot, while Japan's Shotaro Onishi can also hold his head high.

Little, Fiji's most-capped player, became the 12th man to pass 600 points in international rugby when he opened the scoring with a fourth minute penalty - but little else went right for his side.

With only nine points scored and 30 minutes gone on the clock, the crowd were getting restless. Where were these Flying Fijians everyone had come to see?

All credit to Japan though, who managed eight turnovers from Fijian ball and kept the Islanders under immense pressure that resulted in nine handling errors.

It was unfortunate then that the first try came against the run of play after a faulting Japan scrum ended with dynamic Fiji flanker Akapusi Qera pouncing on a loose ball and racing 60 metres to score under the posts.

Japan captain and number eight Takuro Miuchi and scrum-half Tomoki Yoshida were the guilty parties on that occasion.

Little slotted the simplest of conversions and it looked as if Fiji would go into the break four points up with the score standing at 6-10.

However, Fijian flyer Vilimoni Delasau was caught with a rather high tackle on his opposite number and given a yellow card for his efforts. Onishi capitalised on the penalty and kicked a fine goal that took Japan into the break trailing by just one point.

Japan got the second half off to a good start, continuing where they left off the first 40 minutes with another penalty goal to Onishi who kept his 100 per cent kicking record in tact.

The Japan flags in the stadium were waved with less enthusiasm after Qera again was on hand to score his second try of the afternoon thanks to a fine break by captain and scrum-half Mosese Rauluni.

The Fiji skipper showed great skills to snap up the ball from a wheeled scrum from a Japan put in and made several hard yards before throwing a superb pass to Isoa Neivua. The left wing drew his man well and passed a simple inside ball to a supporting Qera who went over again untouched for the converted try. 12-17 to the Fijians.

Any thoughts of Fiji taking control of this match were ruled out almost immediately when the Cherry Blossoms showed some brilliant character to bounce back and touch down with a fine try of their own.

Attacking just outside the Fiji's 22, New Zealand-born lock Luke Thompson found himself with the ball at inside centre and took it upon himself to play like one when he threw a lovely dummy to race unopposed for a converted try under the sticks.

That took Japan back into the lead with the scoreline reading 19-17.

The see-saw battle continued when Little kicked another penalty to re-capture the lead at 19-20 in the 54th minute.

Another break down the right hand touchline by Rauluni caught the Japanese napping and were only jolted wide awake after robust centre Seru Rabeni stretched out to score Fiji's third try. The conversion was missed, but Fiji were now beginning to pull away.

Or were they?

Japan's never-say-die attitude would eventually reap rewards when prop Tatsukichi Nishiura sumo-wrestled himself over the Fiji tryline from a powerful maul off an attacking line-out. Japan failed with their conversion, Onishi's first miss of the night but Japan were now trailing 24-25.

The Fijians showed they have muscle in their forward ranks too when lock Kele Leawere - who ironically plays his club rugby in Japan - touched down for the Islanders' four-try bonus point. Little was more accurate with this conversion this time round and the score now read 24-32 with nine minutes remaining.

The lead was extended further with another Little penalty - though don't let the name confuse you, it was a massive kick.

With two minutes left on the clock and the game all but won for the Islanders, Japan scored a dramatic try after again showing off some good skill and strength in a rolling maul. With the forwards' charge halted just inches from the line, Thompson took on two Fiji defenders to crash over for his second try of the match.

Onishi converted to set up an edge-of-your-seat finale.

Japan only needed a try to win and with time up on the clock, had to keep the ball in play and in hand. Fiji had their chances to kick the ball out and end the game, but they failed to find touch and Japan had another lifeline.

After an agonising 24 phases of play - it could have been more, but at this stage we lost count - Japan just couldn't break the Fiji's white wall of defenders. Referee Marius Jonker was playing five minutes into injury time and both sides were running on empty.

Eventually, a wayward pass was kicked on and duly gathered by a Fijian defender who ended the day's play by launching the ball into the stands.

Nearly all the players flopped to the ground out of breath from what was yet another thrilling game of rugby. What a shame there could only be one winner.

Man of the match: Although it wasn't a pleasant opening 40 minutes, the second half was a fine display of passion and commitment from everyone on the pitch. But there can only be one winner. For Japan, inside centre Shotaro Onishi kept his team in the hunt throughout the game with his pinpoint kicks at goal. Luke Thompson kept the forwards on top with his great work in the line-outs as well as in the driving mauls - and let us not forget his brace of tries. For Fiji, the half-back combination of Nicky Little and Mosese Rauluni was always going to be critical on Fiji's outcome of this match and both certainly didn't disappoint. But our vote goes to the giant loose forward who runs like a wing and is as strong as a prop. Take a bow Akapusi Qera who