End-of-year Test: 14-man All Blacks hold onto narrow win against spirited Japan

Dylan Coetzee
Japan v New Zealand: All Black Richie Mo'unga kicks for goal during a Test.

The All Blacks held their nerve against a spirited Japan side to claim a thrilling 38-31 win in Tokyo, after playing the last 14 minutes with a man down due to a Brodie Retallick red card.

New Zealand started strongly in the first half through three tries courtesy of Retallick, Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece in the opening 32 minutes, with Richie Mo’unga making no mistake with the conversions. The hosts could only add a penalty through Takuya Yamasawa.

Japan had made a huge number of tackles in the opening period, showing incredible commitment on defence and were rewarded with two tries in the last five minutes of the half through Yamasawa and Yukata Nagare. Yamasawa kicked both conversions to keep the Brave Blossoms in the game at the break.

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The All Blacks got the start they wanted in the second period, with Caleb Clarke going over after only two minutes for a converted try.

Japan responded in the 57th minute through Warner Dearns, who caught the ball in an attempted charge down to score a try converted by Seung Sin Lee.

New Zealand replied quickly through Hoskins Sotutu crashing over for a try in the 60th minute as Mo’unga made no mistake from the tee again.

The Test turned into an arm wrestle as Retallick was sent off in the 66th minute for a dangerous cleanout, opening the door for a late Japanese surge.

The hosts obliged and threw everything they had at the All Blacks, scoring a converted try through Kazuki Himeno, who was excellent on the night. The five-pointer brought Japan within a try of a famous victory.

However, it was not to be as they conceded a late penalty in front of the posts – after trying to attack from deep – which Mo’unga nudged over to improve the scoreline.

The Brave Blossoms reminded the rugby world that they are no longer an easy Test, while All Blacks coach Ian Foster will have much to think about after this encounter.

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