Rugby Union: Japanese praise monk and a South Seas warrior

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ALAN DAVIES, the Wales coach, sat in the back of the small stand, pen poised over notebook. The back of a piece of confetti would have given him enough room to record his thoughts. At least the Japanese had something to write home about.

This was no famous victory but in the context of a short, saturated tour that appeared to be going nowhere, a win of any description was worthy of a minor celebration. Narberth, in deepest West Wales, is not renowned for its sushi bars so the tourists settled for the local produce. Once upon a time they might have been served otter.

Narberth, a junior club, are known as The Otters and on top of the rugby posts sit four metal otters' heads. The connection is that a benefactor of the club was once involved in running a pack of otter hounds. A measure of the interest of this game is that even the briefest whiff of Narberth RFC's history seemed to hold more fascination.

While England and Scotland await the arrival of the All Blacks, Wales appear to have a very short straw in hosting Japan. The strategy is that Wales build gradually towards the World Cup and next year South Africa are the visitors to the Principality. In their opening three tour matches, Japan conceded 16 tries and their only victory was by 24-23 over Dunvant.

In their penultimate match, they meet a Heineken League Third and Fourth Division Select XV at Pontypridd tomorrow evening before meeting Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. The Welsh Rugby Union is awarding caps but only 20,000 are expected at the Arms Park compared to the 28,000 who watched the Bruno-Lewis fight.

'At least it might generate a bit of interest,' Davies said, referring to Japan's achievement in beating West Wales. There was very little evidence of that. Japan are described as one of the emerging rugby countries, but the trouble is they have been emerging for 60 years without ever quite arriving.

Clive Norling refereed Japan- England in Osaka in 1979 when the Japanese came within a whisker of a draw. In the dying minutes, Norling ruled that a conversion curled just wide of the posts and England won 21-19. 'What was so impressive about the Japanese then,' Norling said, 'was that they varied their play so imaginatively, especially to win possession in the line-out. They seem to have lost a lot of that innovation.'

Short of recruiting sumo wrestlers into the front row, the Japanese, who have always played with the handicap of being simply too lightweight, are gradually infiltrating the odd warrior from the South Seas and three of their biggest forwards against West Wales were a Fijian, a Maori and a Tongan. These rising sons did more than most to subdue a West Wales XV who must have thought they were on easy street when Japan conceded a simple try from the first move of the match, Stephen Barclay winning a race for Matthew Lewis's kick over the Japanese line.

West Wales won plenty of possession but did not have the pace, guile or experience to outflank a tenacious defence. Finally, they ran out of ideas and when even the basics of giving and taking a pass broke down, the Japanese had the confidence and stamina to push ahead.

They had turned a 10-7 deficit into a 14-10 lead - the goalkicking on both sides was atrocious - before Hirofumi Ouchi, the trainee Bhuddist monk who was sent off at Dunvant last week, and Sinali Latu scored tries late in the game. The relief from the Japanese party was audible.

West Wales: Tries Barclay, R Jones. Japan: Tries Kunda, Maeda, Ouchi, Latu; Conversions Nagatomo 2, Maeda.

WEST WALES: D Weatherley (Swansea); S Barclay (Swansea), J Jardine (Aberavon), I Lewis (Swansea), G Wilkins (Bridgend); M Lewis (Bridgend), R Jones (Neath); I Buckett (Swansea), A Thomas (Neath), R Shaw (Swansea), G Llewellyn (Neath, capt), P Jones (Llanelli), I Davies (Swansea), A Williams (Maesteg), A Varney (Neath). Replacements: H Harries (Llanelli) for R Jones, 50; I Jones (Swansea) for Davies, 50.

JAPAN: T Matsuda; T Maeda, M Fujikake, T Faamasino, Y Yoshida; S Aoki, Y Nagatomo; O Ota, M Kunda (capt), K Takahashi, Y Sakuraba, B Ferguson, S Kaleta, S Latu, H Ouchi.

Referee: R McDowall (Ireland).

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