Japan happy with win over Philippine Volcanoes

By Rich Freeman, Kyodo News

Posted at May 05 2014 08:31 PM | Updated as of May 06 2014 08:05 PM

MANILA - Five new caps, three of whom scored; no real injuries to talk of despite the challenging conditions; and their 25th straight bonus-point win in the Asian 5 Nations -- it would seem Japan ticked all the boxes in their weekend visit to the Philippines.

Team doctor Yuji Takazawa and strength and conditioning coordinator John Pryor both pronounced the team fit and healthy following the game played in 35 C heat, high humidity and a strong wind, with the only slight worry a groin strain picked up by scrumhalf Atsushi Hiwasa.

"We did what we came here to do," said captain Michael Leitch.

Earlier in the week, Leitch had said he wanted Japan to pass the 108 points Hong Kong put on the Volcanoes in the opening round of the tournament.

Japan not only fell nine points short, but also allowed the hosts to score 10, as the Saunders brothers (Matt and Ollie, who have both played in Japan) ran in an intercept try and kicked a penalty and conversion. But that did not bother Leitch, who said the hosts were far more organized this week in defense.

"Even the All Blacks give up intercepts," he said.

Head coach Eddie Jones said it had been the perfect start to the tournament, which this year doubles as Asia's qualifying tournament for Rugby World Cup 2015.

However, he later said that there were a few things the team needed to improve on, most importantly their kickoff returns, which last year cost the Brave Blossoms a number of points and games.

With Japan missing close on 15 senior players -- either away playing Super Rugby, injured or given some time off before the crunch games with South Korea and Hong Kong -- Jones said he was happy he had been able to play so many players either still at university or recent graduates.

At one stage only three of the seven backs on the field had played in the Top League, though Jones admitted their lack of experience had resulted in the Philippines score.

"The only way Japan can take on the bigger and better teams is if they play as flat as possible and stay on the gain line," he said. "We need to play momentum rugby and keep the opposition on the back foot, and to do that your skill levels need to be really high. We aren't athletic enough to play a long way from the line."

But as Jones explained, many young Japanese players take too long to make a decision and "that slow decision-making means they have to take time to think and that means their skill level drops off."

Following a short night out with some of the ex-pat Japanese who came down from Manila for the game, the team flew back to Japan on Sunday morning to prepare for next weekend's clash with Sri Lanka in Nagoya.

On Saturday, the Sri Lankans fell 41-10 to Hong Kong, who top the table, having played one more game than Japan.

"We're just taking things one game at a time," said Leitch when asked whether the team were already looking ahead to the games against South Korea and Hong Kong and qualifying for the World Cup.