AFP SUVA (AFP-Jiji) — Japan captain Michael Leitch bagged two tries on Saturday as the enterprising Brave Blossoms celebrated their return to the Pacific Nations Cup by winning the title with a 34-20 win over the United States in Fiji.
Victory in the tournament, which this year serves as a crucial tune-up for six Pacific rim counties ahead of the World Cup, put Japan ahead of Fiji in the world rankings and into the top 10.
It was Japan's third Pacific crown after winning in 2011 and sharing the title with Samoa in 2014, and the win came after a three-year absence from the tournament.
Japan’s set piece steadily improved through the competition, and in their final match, the Japanese added a variety of moves in general play to counter the size dominance of the larger Americans.
“It all came down to preparation. We’ve been together since February and all the hard work has paid off,” Leitch said.
“I think our discipline maybe let us down, but I think we’re on the right track.”
The United States finished strongly and coach Gary Gold said his team’s World Cup preparation was on track despite the score.
“We got tested by a such a good Japanese team. When you make mistakes they make you pay, and that was a good lesson for us,” Gold said.
Japan’s first try, by Leitch, came after an 11-man lineout drive, and was followed by a series of short snap passes that opened a gap for Kenki Fukuoka to race through and score.