OKYO (AFP) – Japan came within two minutes of stunning the Maori All Blacks on Saturday as the “Brave Blossoms” were caught by a sucker punch in a battling 20-18 defeat.
Flanker Dan Pryor landed the knockout blow for the visitors by capping a lightning raid with an acrobatic try in the 78th minute, just as Japan looked to be heading for a shock victory in Tokyo a week after losing by 40 points.
“We all love the game, but sometimes the game doesn’t love you,” Japan coach Eddie Jones told reporters. “It didn’t love us today. We were in a situation where we should have closed the game out. But in terms of our performance I’m very proud of the players.”
Japan, beaten 61-21 by the tourists last weekend, were wobbling at 15-0 down after Nehe Milner-Skudder sprinted clear in the 23rd minute and Ihaia West slotted a penalty quickly afterwards.
But fleet-footed winger Akihito Yamada evaded the Maori defence to touch down in the corner moments before halftime, and the pendulum swung in Japan’s favour three minutes after the restart when they were awarded a penalty try for a collapsed scrum.