TOKYO (AFP) – The All Blacks were made to work hard for a 38-31 win over Japan in Tokyo yesterday as they kicked off their northern hemisphere tour.
Brodie Retallick was shown a 66th-minute red card for dangerous play to set up a nervy finale for New Zealand at a sold-out National Stadium.
Kazuki Himeno scored a late try but it was not enough for a spirited Japan side looking for their first win over the All Blacks.
“It’s our first game after a bit of a break and we were a bit rusty, but they played really well and it turned into a really tight game,” said All Blacks head coach Ian Foster.
“We got put under a lot of pressure but I really liked the way we played. Japan came back very well before half-time and really turned the game into a tight contest.”
Retallick, Braydon Ennor, Sevu Reece, Caleb Clarke and Hoskins Sotutu all scored tries for New Zealand, who will now head to Europe to take on Wales, Scotland and England.
“It was a very tough match today, we got what we expected, we knew the Japanese are a very tough, skilful side, and they put us under a lot of pressure,” said All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
“I think our composure kept us in the fight, and we’ve got guys who can score tries quickly.”
New Zealand scored the opening try in the 11th minute when Dane Coles broke through a tackle and passed it on for Retallick to gallop home.
Ennor crossed the line in the 26th minute to finish off a slick move for the All Blacks’ second try of the afternoon.
Reece added another just over five minutes later when Richie Mo’unga flew in to pick off a long line-out throw and feed the winger for the try.
But just when it looked like Japan were out of the contest, the home side hit back with two tries shortly before half-time.
First, Yamasawa crossed the line after fumbles in the All Blacks defence from Stephen Perofeta and Ennor.
Then Yutaka Nagare scored another to send Japan into the break trailing by only four points.
New Zealand stretched their lead just minutes after the restart when Clarke broke through the Japanese defence to touch down for a try.
But Japan hit back again when Warner Dearns charged down Finlay Christie’s kick and held to the ball to race over the line.
Sotutu scored a try in the 61st minute before Retallick saw red five minutes later after charging recklessly into a ruck.
Himeno scored a late try for Japan to set up a nervy finale but New Zealand held on for the win.
“I’m very proud of our players,” said Japan’s New Zealand-born head coach Jamie Joseph, whose team will now head to Europe to play England and France.
“They showed the right intent, right from the start until the end. It was exactly what we’re trying to build as a rugby team.”