Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts Japan will head into their home tournament as World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup champions.
The Brave Blossoms’ encouraging warm-up form continued as Jamie Joseph’s side won their third successive match in this year’s tournament, overcoming the USA 34-20 in the title decider in Suva.
In the second game of the day hosts Fiji leapfrogged the Eagles into top spot in Pool A as they held on to beat Samoa 10-3.
Samoa dominated territory and possession at ANZ Stadium but were unable to breach the line, and were ultimately defeated by a record-breaking Vereniki Goneva try.
Tonga had beaten Canada 33-23 in Lautoka on Friday in the other match of the final round.
USA 20-34 Japan
Japan claimed a third World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title on Saturday thanks to an impressive bonus-point win over the USA in Suva.
Both teams went into round three unbeaten with the Eagles dreaming of a first-ever Pacific Nations Cup crown, but the Rugby World Cup 2019 hosts led from the fourth minute. Captain Michael Leitch emerged with the ball following a lineout drive and after Yu Tamura added the conversion, the fly-half stretched Japan’s advantage with a penalty.
That lead would be extended to 17 points with less than 15 minutes gone as some quick hands put Kotaro Matsushima into space on the right wing and he drew a defender before popping a pass to Kenki Fukuoka to canter over.
The USA hit back shortly afterwards as AJ MacGinty created the space for Maddison Hughes to score. The Sale Sharks playmaker injured himself in the process, however, and would be replaced before half-time. Will Hooley converted Hughes’ try and subsequently traded penalties with Tamura to make the score 20-10 at the break.
But any hopes of an Eagles comeback were extinguished within two minutes of the restart as Tamura produced a sumptuous pop pass to Ryohei Yamanaka, who touched down.
Yamanaka was also heavily involved in his side’s fourth try, taking an offload from Fukuoka before taking play deep into the Eagles’ 22 where a Shota Horie offload allowed Leitch to score his second try.
Fukuoka was then denied a brilliant solo try by a foot in touch but the game would end with the USA on top. Hanco Germishuys burrowed over from close range with less than 10 minutes left but that was as close as the Eagles would get as Japan closed out the victory.
“I think it all came down to preparation,” Brave Blossoms captain Leitch said. “Our discipline maybe let us down but I think we’re on the right track.”
Japan coach Jamie Joseph added: “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.”
USA captain Blaine Scully said: “They played really well and they punished us for every mistake that we made. As much as we’re disappointed by the result, this is very much about the process.”
Fiji 10-3 Samoa
Vereniki Goneva became Fiji’s record try-scorer as he touched down during his side’s Pacific Nations Cup win against Samoa at ANZ Stadium.
Goneva, who will join English Premiership club Harlequins after Rugby World Cup 2019, picked a brilliant support line to dot down his 21st test try shortly after half-time, following a flowing team move. It proved to be the decisive score as Fiji held on to beat their Pacific Island neighbours despite ceding territory and possession throughout a bruising 80 minutes.
Samoa played most of the match on the front foot in Suva, but were unable to translate their ascendancy into points as fly-half UJ Seuteni missed two penalty attempts in the opening 23 minutes. That allowed his opposite number Ben Volavola to open the scoring in the 33rd minute as the playmaker dissected the posts to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
Seuteni then missed a drop-goal attempt before he finally registered with a penalty of his own on the stroke of half-time.
Fiji retook the lead within three minutes of the restart and when the try arrived it was well worth the wait. Frank Lomani started the move and after Semi Radradra had taken play into Samoan territory the scrum-half was on hand to take a pass from Levani Bottia and give it to Goneva to write his name in the record books.
Samoa lost number eight TJ Ioane to injury in the 51st minute but despite that set back it was the visitors who finished the strongest.
Replacement hooker Seilala Lam thought he had scored under the posts in the 59th minute but the whistle had already gone for an offside at the breakdown. As the pressure told on the Fijian defence the hosts lost Peceli Yato to the sin bin late on. Moments later it looked as though Ah See Tuala had scored in the left corner but replays confirmed the Samoa full-back had dropped the ball over the line.
“We won a very physical arm wrestle today. it was a tough battle for us,” Fiji coach John McKee said. “Credit to Samoa, they put us under a lot of pressure and made us make errors.”
Samoa coach Steve Jackson said: “I was pretty happy. Did we deserve to lose? I’m not too sure. I was pretty happy, the scoreline doesn’t reflect how our team went.”