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Japan shows potential to blossom

The Associated PressSUVA, Fiji (AP) — Japan caused the sensation of the 2015 Rugby World Cup when it beat South Africa in pool play and signaled its intention to be a danger for the top-tier nations again this year with a 34-20 victory over the United States in Suva Saturday to win the Pacific Nations Cup.

“Our first goal was to win the PNC. The next goal is to go to the World Cup, play our Japan brand of rugby and make the top eight,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said.

Japan played with typical pace and flair, scoring four tries including a double to captain Michael Leitch. Leitch led a strong and physical forward pack and winger Kenji Fukuoka, who scored a superb try, was a standout in a skillful backline.

“I think it all came down to preparation,” Leitch said. “We’ve been together since February and all the hard work has paid off.

“I think we’re on the right track [for the World Cup]. It was a good performance. Our discipline let us down at times but we’re on the right track.”

Japan won all three of its matches in the Pacific Nations Cup, beating defending champion Fiji 34-21 and Tonga 41-7 before its showdown with the United States. The USA beat Canada 47-19 and Samoa 13-10 to reach the final but had to settle for second place, matching its best previous finish in the tournament.

Captain Blaine Scully said while the Eagles were disappointed with their performance in the final, they feel the tournament has set them up well for the World Cup.

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