Japan and Canada drew 23-23 in Napier this afternoon in an exciting repeat of their last-round draw in France in 2007. John Kirwan’s squad blew away the Canucks in the first half, with a flowing brand of running rugby punctuating constant possession which saw Canada concede two tries but narrowly escape harsher punishment. Kieran Crowley instructed his pack to remain the ball in the second half, a tactic that eventually paid off as Canada equalised the game in the final minutes; the loss of sharpshooter James Pritchard to a nasty head knock in the first half robbed them of crucial goal-kicking quality as three of Ander Monro’s five efforts were wayward in contrast to a perfect display James Arlidge’s perfect display.
The game was brought to life in the 5th minute when a searing break by DTH Van der Merve through a static Japanese midfield was stopped by a desperate ankle tap by covering fullback Shaun Webb. Van der Merve didn’t miss his second opportunity two minutes later as Canada camped on the Japanese line before spreading the ball wide; Japan levelled the scores in style before the opening ten minutes was through as a bustling Ryan Nicholas break from a scrum through a shaky Canadian midfield eventually saw Shota Horie shove his way over the line. The game settled thereafter into a tactical battle between the two Kiwi-coached teams as Arlidge kicked Japan into a 10-7 lead; Japan looked to counterattack the bear-like Canadian approach with flowing, running rugby and gained ascendency by the closing stages of the half. A very well-executed move from another scrum saw Kosuke Endo cut through under the posts in the final minute for the Brave Blossoms to take a deserved 17-7 lead into the break.
Phil Mackenzie carved through the Japanese defence as Canada opened the second half with a piece of set-piece brilliance of their own, gaining the Canucks a foothold in the game that Japan struggled to shake off. Canada grew in confidence as they took the game to Japan up front while fly-halves Arlidge and Monro traded penalties through the half. Arlidge kicked flawlessly as to give the Japanese a crucial eight point lead before Monro crashed over to set up a tight finish. Monro missed the conversion before nailing a penalty with just four minutes play to level the scores at 23-all. Japan attacked desperately but Arlidge failed to land a field goal from long range as the two teams failed to separate themselves through two consecutive games of World Cup rugby.