France 23-23 Japan: Yu Tamura misses late conversion to win it for Japan
Last Updated: 25/11/17 10:24pm
Japan held France to a 23-23 draw in their final November international at U Arena in Paris on Saturday, with the hosts lucky to avoid a sixth straight defeat.
Jamie Joseph's Japan dominated for much of the game and outscored their opponents by three tries to two, but fly-half Yu Tamura missed a simple late conversion that would have sealed a famous win, letting France and Guy Noves off the hook.
Hooker Shota Horie went over for the opening try of the game before Rabah Slimani responded for France.
Timothy Lafaele and Asaeli Ai Valu went over for further Japan scores, either side of a Gabriel Lacroix effort for France, who was sin-binned with 20 minutes left for taking a man out in the air.
Noves had responded to last week's 18-17 loss to South Africa - their 13th in just 21 matches under Noves - by replacing six of the backs that started that game, while flanker Sekou Macalou and wing Gabriel Lacroix were handed debuts.
Former All Black Joseph made just one alteration to his Japan team that beat Tonga 39-6, with Yutaka Nagare taking the place of Fumiaki Tanaka at scrum-half.
Japan started brightly, pushing France back, and struck first as fly-half Tamara slotted over a penalty.
After twice giving away possession with handling errors, France were forced into some fierce defence on their own line after an excellent break by Japan captain Michael Leitch, before breaking the shackles and levelling the scores through a long-range Francois Trinh-Duc penalty.
The hosts should have scored the opening try after a sweeping move that took them from one end of the pitch to the other, but Macalou fumbled at the line and the visiting defence held firm.
But Japan continued to be the brighter side and scored the opening try their enterprising play deserved when hooker Horie dived over in the corner, although Tamura missed the tricky conversion.
The hosts almost hit back immediately, but Lacroix was unable to touch down before being bundled into touch, while the home crowd jeered in disgust when Trinh-Duc opted to kick a penalty for the posts instead of the corner as he cut the gap to two points.
With 90 seconds until the interval, the fly-half did kick a penalty for the corner, and it paid off, with sustained pressure leading to Clermont prop Slimani barrelling over. Trinh-Duc added the extras to put a flat home side five points to the good at the interval.
But Japan flew out of the blocks in the second period, with centre Lafaele barging through the hapless France defence to touch down and Tamura's simple conversion edged the tourists ahead.
A third Japanese try almost followed, but Kazuki Himeno was denied by a forward pass in the build-up.
France hit back again, though, with La Rochelle's Lacroix scoring a debut try from a long cross-field kick by Trinh-Duc, who successfully converted.
Noves' side were still spending most of the second half camped inside their own 22, but survived a flurry of Japan five-metre lineouts.
Japan were given a further boost when Lacroix was sin-binned for tackling Tamura in the air.
Tamura and Trinh-Duc traded penalties to leave the game still finely balanced heading into the final 10 minutes, and the Brave Blossoms finally grabbed their third try as replacement prop Ai Valu cleverly took the ball from a ruck to score.
But Tamura missed the simple conversion when he should really have given Japan only a second ever win over a Tier-One nation, after their famous 34-32 victory against South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.