More than 100 points were scored on the opening day of the World Rugby Pacific Challenge 2018 in Suva with Junior Japan and defending champions Fiji Warriors recording victories over Tonga A and Samoa A respectively on Friday.
Junior Japan fought back from a half-time deficit in the opening match at the ANZ Stadium to score five second-half tries for a 45-28 victory over Tonga A, before the Fiji Warriors delighted the home crowd with a 33-21 defeat of Samoa A.
The Japanese top the table after the opening round from Fiji Warriors on point differential with Tonga A third after collecting a try bonus point in their loss and Samoa A bottom.
The top two will meet in a potential title decider in round two at the same venue on Tuesday, 13 March. Tonga A and Samoa A will kick-off proceedings in round two with both eager for their first victory.
A proven player development platform in the Pacific Islands and Asia, the World Rugby-funded tournament delivers a high-performance pathway for a core group of under-23 players from domestic to international rugby.
Junior Japan V Tonga A
Barnstorming number eight Tevita Tatafu, already capped by the Brave Blossoms at test level, was the key man as Junior Japan overturned a 21-12 half-time deficit to beat Tonga A.
Tatafu scored the opening try of the match after only five minutes, but Tonga A controlled the next 25 minutes, scoring 21 unanswered points through tries by flanker Puniani Malafu, scrum-half Sosaia Tokai and centre Young Pongi, all of them converted by inside-centre James Faiva.
Junior Japan, who finished as runners-up in the 2017 Challenge, stemmed the tide of Tongan points with scrum-half Shinobu Fujiwara’s try on the half hour mark.
If Tonga A had enjoyed the best of the first half, the second was a different story with the Japanese forwards performing well in the lineout and scrum to pile the pressure on their opponents.
In taking the game to the Tongans, Junior Japan cut the deficit to only two points within minutes of the restart after flanker Hisanobu Okayama touched down and Faiva added the conversion.
His fellow flanker Faulua Makisi, another player with test experience, and Tatafu then crossed to give Junior Japan the try bonus point and lead in the match before Tongan replacement Paula Folau set the match up for a tense finale.