Japan Comes Close to Stunning Upset over New Zealand's All Blacks
A late try by the Brave Blossoms' Kazuki Himeno put the pressure on the three-time Rugby World Cup winners, who held on for the win.
Japan came within minutes of pulling off the biggest upset in its rugby history on Saturday, October 29 when the Brave Blossoms lost by a score of 38-31 against the All Blacks of New Zealand.
Jamie Joseph's side was a try away from a stunning upset in the final minutes after New Zealand's Brodie Retallick was sent off for a dangerous cleanout with 15 minutes to play at Tokyo's National Stadium.
Kazuki Himeno scored a try with just two minutes left to cut the All Blacks' lead to 35-31 but Richie Mo'unga kicked a penalty in the final minute to seal the win for the three-time Rugby World Cup winners.
The Brave Blossoms' previous best result against the All Blacks was a 38-point loss the last time these sides met in 2018.
"We came very close," former captain Michael Leitch said. "We made some small mistakes and that led to points for the opposition but overall the team played well and a result like this against a team like the All Blacks should give us confidence."
All Blacks Race Out to Big Lead
A sell-out crowd of 65,188 was on hand to witness a highly entertaining match.
The All Blacks jumped out to a commanding 21-3 lead midway through the first half on tries by Retallick, Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece and appeared set to overwhelm the hosts.
But Japan tackled at a high level throughout and late first-half tries by Takuya Yamasawa and Yutaka Nagare just four minutes apart changed the complexion of the game.
New Zealand looked vulnerable and took a 21-17 lead into halftime.
New Zealand Extends Advantage
Caleb Clarke broke a tackle just one minute into the second half and crossed the line and Mo'unga converted to give the visitors a 28-17 lead.
But prop Warner Dearns blocked a kicking attempt and ran in a try in the 57th minute to cut the lead to just 28-24.
New Zealand restored its 11-point lead three minutes later on a try by Hoskins Sotutu.
Playing with the extra man, Japan was able to press forward and Himeno's late try made for a tense finish for Ian Foster's team.
Japan had never beaten New Zealand in their previous six matches.
After the match, Foster said the Brave Blossoms had a quality performance.
"They are a very good team and were coming off a long break and that made a game which was much tighter than we would have wanted it," the All Blacks coach said, according to The Associated Press. "It was a great performance by them, they pressured us and came back after that first quarter and showed a lot of spirit."
A Look Ahead
Japan next faces 2023 World Cup host France on November 20 in Toulouse.
The All Blacks are playing in Japan on their way to Britain as part of their Northern Hemisphere tour. They will play Wales in Cardiff on November 5, Scotland in Edinburgh on November 13 and England at Twickenham on November 19.
Japan vs. New Zealand
All Blacks 38 (Brodie Retallick, Braydon Ennor, Sevu Reece, Caleb Clarke, Hoskins Sotutu, Warner Dearns tries; Richie Mo'unga 5 conversions, penalty)
Japan 31 (Takuya Yamasawa, Yutaka Nagare, Werner Dearns, Kazuki Himeno tries; Yamasawa 4 conversions, penalty)
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles here.