Wales blossom in Cardiff

22nd Sep 2007, 08:53


Bait Taken: James Hook slips behind the Japanese to score

Bait Taken: James Hook slips behind the Japanese to score

Wales bounced back from the loss to Australia by recording an emphatic 72-18 victory over Japan in Pool B in Cardiff on Thursday evening.

Wales bounced back from the loss to Australia by recording an emphatic 72-18 victory over Japan at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, treating the few fans in attendance to eleven tries.

Shane Williams scored twice to take his try tally to 34 on his 50th appearance, moving into second place behind Gareth Thomas in nation's all-time scoring list as Wales notched up their 300th Test victory.

The predicted try spree sets up Wales nicely for what promises to be a winner-takes-all final group game against Fiji in Nantes on September 29, but the men in red were the first to admit that there is still plenty to work on.

The Welsh team needed a special performance and they didn't disappoint as the Dragons extinguished their critics' smoke with a firey performance that left the Japanese breathless.

But Wales again failed to finish off several try-scoring opportunities which could have ended the match with a much higher scoreline.

The men in red will need to get out of their starting blocks a lot faster and keep the continuity going, especially against their next opponents.

If they manage to do this and get some good structure early on, they will have set a decent platform to play off which would result in more tries and less pressure on themselves.

Many positives can be taken away from this match - besides touching down for eleven tries - it was Wales's burning desire to attack and get more use out of the ball through a backline oozing talent.

The line-outs worked like a dream - which probably can't be too difficult against a team like Japan - and led to a couple of tries.

Japan will be kicking themselves for turning over to much ball and coach John Kirwan summed it up perfectly after the match saying: "If you turn over that amount of ball, you are going to get punished!"

Unfortunately for Japan, it was Wales to take on the punishing role as the Cherry Blossoms just couldn't keep up with a fast flowing game and made life very simple for a rampant Welsh outfit.

The game started off very scrappily with Wales making far too many handling errors, knocking on whilst under pressure from thumping Japanese tackles.

Japan played off Wales's errors magnificently and crept into their opponents half to kick the first points of the night thanks to the trusty boot of inside centre Shotaro Onishi - who was later stretchered off the field in the second half.

With Wales still struggling to get into gear, a wayward kick from full-back Kevin Morgan ricocheted off a Japanese player only for Stephen Jones to legally pick up a good fifteen metres in front of Morgan and put winger Dafydd James into a gap.

James made sufficient ground before offloading to lock Alun-Wyn Jones who put in a juggling act before diving over for Wales's first - and incredibly lucky - try of the match. Jones added the extras and Wales were back in the lead.

The home team started getting some rhythm together, and were close to scoring their second if it weren't for referee Joël Jutge's foot getting in the way. The result was a five metre scrum to Wales with number eight Alix Popham picking up from the base and having a run on his own, only to be left stranded on the blindside.

Japan skipper Takuro Miuchi cooly ripped the ball off his opposite number and sent wing Hirotoki Onozawa away down the left touchline.

The rest of the Japanese linked up superbly and the ball passed through five pairs of hands before right wing Kosuke Endo ended off a fine counter-attack with one of the best tries scored in the World Cup to date.

Stephen Jones, captain for the day, had strong words under the posts and Wales responded with three tries in 17 minutes to secure the bonus-point before half-time.

James Hook, patrolling wide on the left, shaped to deliver an inside pass but handed off centre Yuta Imamura and sprinted clear for his fifth Test try.

Popham then laid the platform with a charge for the line and hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas, making his first World Cup start, powered through two defenders to score Wales' third.

And just before the interval, Morgan made amends for a miserable first-half performance with a neat step and finish to secure Wales the bonus point.

The Welsh continued in the same vein after the interval and after Duncan Jones had cleaned up at the line-out, scrum-half Michael Phillips escaped a splintered Japan defence to score next to the posts.

Phillips was in determined mood. He regathered his own delicate chip over the Japan midfield, beat three defenders and swung a long pass out for Shane Williams to score his first.Wales made their first change after just 50 minutes and it was a significant one with lock Ian Evans, who has been out of action since December, replacing Alun-Wyn Jones.

It did nothing to halt Wales's momentum. Shane Williams made a dart, Stephen Jones provided a neat inside pass and Dafydd James stretched to score Wales's seventh try.

Japan got further reward for their plucky, if limited, endeavours and stung Wales with another counter-attack try after Popham attempted a blind pass.

Winger Hirotoki Onazawa picked it off, raced past Morgan and beat the retreating Evans and Shane Williams to score under the posts.

That was Popham's last act. Michael Owen came on at the restart and within a minute he had combined from the back of dominant scrum to send replacement scrum-half Gareth Cooper over in the corner for Wales's eighth try.

This was one-way traffic. Shane Williams's poor footballing skills let him down but the Japan defence then opened up for Martyn Williams to score as Wales hit 60 points.

The flanker was over again with seven minutes remaining as Wales attacked from the line-out and Sweeney swung a great flat ball allowing Williams to hit the gap and score untouched.

And Shane Williams rounded off the day with a simple finish after a clever inside pass from Hook.

Man of the match: Hats off to Japan's two explosive wingers Kosuke Endo and Hirotoki Onozawa for taking the opportunities that came their way. But the night belonged to Wales and several players stood out. Stephen Jones made up for his blunder against the Wallabies and put in several breaks which could count against the likes of Fiji. Alun-Wyn Jones was remarkable in the line-outs and in the tight exchanges as well as the loose. Scrum-half Michael Philips has proved that he is a number nine for the future - Dwayne Peel watch out! But our vote goes to Martyn Williams who put in a solid 80 minutes that included several powerful runs - two of which led to tries as well as setting up two more. He gave Wales direction whenever they lost their way.

Moment of the match: The first try scored by Japan will go down as one of the best scored in the tournament, with Kosuke Endo sprinting a full 117 metres before dotting down.

Villain of the match: The game was played in a a very gentlemanly manner.