x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

New Zealand, eventually, overwhelm feisty Japan

The All Blacks topped Japan 54-6 on Saturday in Tokyo, though the Japanese managed to hang tough early on in cutting an early New Zealand lead to 7-6.

Charles Piutau scored a try for New Zealand on Saturday. Koji Sasahara / AP
Charles Piutau scored a try for New Zealand on Saturday. Koji Sasahara / AP

TOKYO // World champions New Zealand overpowered Japan 54-6 on Saturday with an experimental side, although the hosts emerged with some credit after a battling display in front of a sell-out Tokyo crowd.

The All Blacks, who now travel to Europe to play France, England and Ireland, stretched their winning streak this year to 11 Tests but endured an uncomfortable opening half an hour against the “Brave Blossoms”.

The visitors’ fearsome pre-match “haka” appeared to have a galvanising effect on Japan, who began the game tearing into tackles, pinching line-out balls and breaking up play to frustrate the World Cup holders.

It took New Zealand nearly 10 minutes to open the scoring when Charles Piutau broke away to register the game’s first try, converted by Dan Carter.

But a pair of Ayumu Goromaru penalties for Japan made it 7-6, and it stayed that way until flanker Sam Cane touched down in the 27th minute for the All Blacks, quickly followed by another breakaway down the left from Ben Smith, his 11th Test try of the year.

Captain Richie McCaw, making his 121st All Blacks appearance, then bulldozed over in the 32nd minute, once again converted by the trusty left boot of Carter, who finished with 10 points on his return to the side.

At half-time, a sell-out crowd of 26,000, many in curly, pink “cherry blossom” wigs, roared in approval with Japan – whose coach Eddie Jones was absent after a mild stroke – having limited the damage to 28-6.

Ruthless in their two previous encounters, New Zealand’s victories over Japan have resembled cricket scores, pulverising them 83-7 two years ago and by a record 145-17 in 1995.

Meeting Japan for the first time outside of the World Cup, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen made 14 changes to the starting line-up which beat Australia 41-33 two weeks ago, with lock Dominic Bird and wing Frank Halai making their debuts.

McCaw, playing at number eight to give understudy Cane more game time in his position, and Carter did start though, both players returning from injury.

Carter finished with a perfect five from five conversions before making way for Tom Taylor, having slotted the extra points after lock Jeremy Thrush had crashed over following a driving All Blacks scrum.

A debut try from Halai followed after more All Blacks pressure in front of the posts, before a superb score from full-back Beauden Barrett, racing onto a clever chip-through from Tawera Kerr-Barlow and then adding the conversion himself. Piutau then added his second of the game to round out the scoring.

Japan winger Kenki Fukuoka had the crowd on their feet after the buzzer when he touched down in the corner, only to be denied on review with replays showing his left foot outside the touchline.

Having upset a weakened Wales team in June in a breakthrough 23-8 home win, Japan’s preparations coming into Saturday’s clash were rocked when coach Jones suffered a mild stroke two weeks ago. He remains hospitalised, with assistant Scott Wisemantel taking over in the dugout.