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Ryan Nicholas stars for Japan

Friday 25 June 2010 | Published in Regional

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Cook Islander Ryan Nicholas, the son of local dentist Philip Nicholas, has helped his Asian Five Nations Champions team Japan record their first ever win over Samoa at the Pacific Nations Cup being played in Samoa.

The fifth edition of the IRB-funded tournament is underway in Apia and is dubbed the penultimate tournament before the Rugby World Cup 2011, used as a testing ground for many players.

The tournament is being contested by hosts Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Japan.

Japan’s historic victory 31-23 over Samoa is only their second ever victory over the Pacific islanders in history, the other coming in 1999, but the result keeps their Pacific Cup challenge title alive with Fiji currently leading the tournament.

Both sides played excellent rugby, and having lost 22-8 to Fiji last week, John Kirwan’s Japan recorded their first PNC victory of 2010.

After James Arlidge had given Japan a 3-0 lead from a penalty, sevens star Lolo Lui gave Samoa the lead in the match with two penalties of his own.

Japan stepped up another gear after 20 minutes with fly half Arlidge combining superbly with Ryan Nicholas for the first try of the match.

Having placed a perfectly weighted chip through for Nicholas to collect and score under the posts, Arlidge added the conversion to give the visitors a 10-6 lead.

Centre Nicholas then turned provider for Hirotoki Onozawa to score Japan’s second in the corner, before scoring his second try in the 32nd minute.

Showing good vision and pace to race past the Samoan defence, Nicholas gave Japan a 20-6 lead before Arlidge added the conversion and a further penalty to give the visitors a 25-6 lead at half time.

Samoa came out firing in the second half, however, and although Arlidge extended the Japanese lead to 22 points, the hosts cut out the unforced errors that had littered the first half and scored three second half tries under the sun in Apia.

In the 56th minute Samoa’s forwards set the platform for replacement scrum-half Uale Mai to set up George Stowers for the hosts first of the match and when Japan lost prop Naoki Kawamata to the sin-bin moments later Samoa continued to exert pressure on the visitors.

IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino continued his excellent form from last week with a further try after Mai again showed great vision to create the try for the wing to score in the corner.

Lui missed the conversion to leave the scores 28-16, but Arlidge added a drop goal for Japan to take his match tally to 16 and extend the lead to 31-16 with minutes remaining.

Pesamino added his second and Samoa’s third, again created by Mai, but it was too little to late as Japan held on to a much awaited victory.

“It was an incredible performance by the players as they knew they did not play well last weekend against Fiji,” said Japan coach John Kirwan.

“There was more accuracy and courage and the players deserve it.”

“Inspiration comes from within and we knew that it would be physical against Samoa but I salute the players.”

Japan now prepare to take on Tonga and Samoa will meet Fiji this weekend in the final round of the tournament.

Fiji leads the tournament after beating Japan 22-8 and Tonga 41-38.

Japan are in second having lost to Fiji 22-8 and picking up a win against Samoa 23-31.

Samoa managed to edge out Tonga 24-23.