WHANGAREI: Kurt Morath revealed his diligence on the training pitch was the key to Tonga’s first win of Rugby World Cup 2011 in a fast-paced Pool A clash with Japan on Wednesday.
The fly half collected a personal tally of 16 points, missing just one of his seven kicks in the 31-18 victory, as the teams scored three tries apiece at Northland Events Centre.
After the match, he said: “In the tight games like that you’ve got to get points from your kicks and I’m happy enough to put them over.
“It was less windy and I had a bit more time to practise on the field this week, so we probably had the upper hand having played here last week.”
Morath’s kicking had been the difference when Tonga went into the break 18-13 after a frenetic first half.
And he was on target again after the interval, landing two more penalties and a conversion, as Japan battled in vain to narrow the margin.
By contrast his opposite number James Arlidge – Japan’s hero with all 21 points in their opening-match defeat by France – had a miserable night with the boot and missed all three of his conversion attempts.
After seven days to recover from their defeat by Canada, Tonga was swift on the attack.
Although the Brave Blossoms were able to withstand a succession of scrums on their line, number 8 Viliami Ma’afu eventually crashed over for a try in the seventh minute.
Japan bounced back and drew the scores level when the TMO ruled that prop Kensuke Hatakeyama had touched down despite suggestions of a double movement.
But from the restart Tonga pounced on spilled ball and second row Tukulua Lokotui was on hand to crash over in the left corner for a converted try that put them 12-5 up after 15 minutes.
Minutes after his try-saving tackle on Tonga centre Siale Piutau, Japan flanker Michael Leitch displayed his value in attack when he powered over for his side’s second try following some deft handling by the Brave Blossoms’ backs.
With less than 10 minutes of the half remaining Arlidge was sent to the sin bin for deliberately stifling a Tonga attack while standing in an offside position.
But full back Shaun Webb took over his kicking duties and dragged Japan within a score by kicking a penalty from in front of the posts on the stroke of half-time.
Right wing Fetu’u Vainikolo started and finished a sweeping counter-attack for Tonga’s third try, again converted by Morath, that pulled Tonga clear at 28-13 with half an hour remaining.
But when replacement prop Halani Aulika was sent to the sin bin in the 61st minute for repeated infringements by the Tongans, Japan quickly took advantage.
After a maul was held up over the Tonga line, from the ensuing scrum centre Alisi Tupuailai picked an unstoppable line through the defence for Japan’s third try in the 63rd minute.
Arlidge missed again and, although Japan pressed hard again, his errancy meant they were never close enough to trouble the Tongans again.