Junior Japan stand in the way of Fiji Warriors and a fifth consecutive World Rugby Pacific Challenge title after both sides recorded their second bonus-point win of the tournament at ANZ Stadium in Suva on Tuesday.
The two standout teams, who both have a maximum 10 points from the opening two rounds, will now play each other in a winner-takes-all finale on Saturday, with Samoa A and Tonga A battling it out to avoid finishing bottom in the other fixture.
SAMOA A 3-76 JUNIOR JAPAN
Junior Japan number eight Haiatoa Vailea set a new tournament record as he scored an incredible five tries in a resounding win for Junior Japan.
Fresh from scoring seven tries at the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019 in Brazil, Vailea dotted down twice in the first half before adding a second-half hat-trick to beat the previous individual best of four tries in a Pacific Challenge match.
Samoa A had no answer to the rampant Junior Japan attack and their only points came from a 27th-minute penalty, kicked by full-back Philippe Sella Fale.
Fly-half Rintaro Maruyama converted all five of Junior Japan’s tries in the first half as they raced into a 35-3 lead.
Winger Haruto Kida was the first to cross in the ninth minute before 21-year-old Vailea got in on the act at the end of the first quarter to add to his try in Junior Japan’s win over Tonga A on Friday.
Within four minutes of Kenta Matsouka bagging the third try of the match, the bonus point was wrapped up by second-row Seta Naivaluwaqa. Vailea’s second and Maruyama’s conversion rounded off the first-half scoring.
Junior Japan wasted no time in rubbing salt into Samoa A’s wounds by scoring again through winger Koshi Emoto with not much more than a minute of the second half played.
Maruyama was off target with his conversion attempt and missed again when Kanji Futamara added his name to the scoresheet.
Three tries from Vailea in a devastating nine-minute burst between the 50th and 59th minutes were followed by a double from replacement hooker Towa Taniguchi, replacement kicker Mikiya Takamoto converting all three scores, as Junior Japan’s high tempo brand of rugby continued to prove too much for the Samoans.
Junior Japan captain Lee Seungsin said: “I think the Samoan team was a very strong and physical team but it rained quite a lot. It worked quite well for us as we could do a more attacking style of rugby.
“We’re going to keep playing to our game plan with an attacking style of rugby and will work together – hopefully, we can come out with a win this weekend against the Fiji Warriors.”
His Samoa A counterpart Noel Sanft added: “We talked a few days ago about what Japan can do and what they’re good at, but unfortunately we just couldn’t adapt to it. They were just too good on the day.
“We’ve got a few young players here. I think pretty much most of the team are in the under-20s and it’s been a pretty disappointing two games and I know we’ve learnt a lot and hopefully, we can take it to another level in the next game.”