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Japan beat Tonga for morale boost ahead of Rugby World Cup

Japan earned a much-needed morale boost on Saturday with a 21-16 victory over Tonga as they step up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup later this year.

The Brave Blossoms overcame early Tongan pressure to grab three tries for the victory, after three recent losses including against Samoa last week.

Japan will face Fiji next month at home before playing Italy ahead of the World Cup.

"It was nice to get a win and get our campaign on the road," Japan coach Jamie Joseph said after the "physical" match at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Osaka.

Japan clinched the first try in the 20th minute, when Jone Naikabula rushed along the left side to open the scoring.

Tongan quickly equalised with a try by Sonatane Takulua, but Japan managed to stay a step ahead of the visitors.

Around 40 minutes into the game, Naikabula kicked the ball through the Tongans toward the goal line where Amato Fakatava rushed in to score a try to expand Japan's lead 13-5 before the break.

Tonga repeatedly threatened Japan and didn't let the hosts enjoy a wide lead.

The visitors made a dramatic intercept a few minutes before the finish but Japan was able to contain the scare and secure victory.

Japan veteran Ryohei Yamanaka said the win should give the team momentum going into the World Cup.

"It was a tough match. It was great that we were able to execute our plans and grab the victory. This should give us more energy going forward," he said.

"We have had a series of losses and we haven't been able to show results. So this win today gives us confidence. We can grow as a team now and we will have more momentum going forward," he said.

Japan is in Pool D at the World Cup alongside England, Argentina, Chile and Samoa.

Japan reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time on home soil four years ago.

They suffered a 24-22 loss to Samoa a week ago, when former captain Michael Leitch received a red card for a high tackle.

He is being sidelined for three matches through the end of August including the latest contest.

© 2023 AFP