France survive heat, first-half examination, to beat Japan
Six Nations champions France stretched away in the second half to beat a spirited Japan 42-23 on Saturday in steamy conditions in the first Test at Toyota Stadium.
With temperatures soaring to 33 degrees and humidity at 55 percent at kick-off, France struggled to impose themselves in the first half as Japan fought back from conceding an early try to be level at 13-13 at half-time.
A Matthis Lebel try shortly after the interval saw the Grand Slam winners click into gear and further tries from Damian Penaud, Yoram Moefana and Pierre Bourgarit sealed victory for an experimental French side.
The two teams will meet again at Tokyo’s Olympic stadium next Saturday.
“It’s frustrating — there are lots of things we can improve on,” said Japan captain Atsushi Sakate.
“I want us to prepare well over the coming week so that we can get revenge.”
France opened the scoring when fly-half Matthieu Jalibert spun the ball out wide for wing Penaud to touch down in the corner in the third minute.
But Japan hit back to take the lead against next year’s World Cup hosts with a penalty from Seungshin Lee and a try from Tevita Tatafu, who finished off a flowing attack by barging over between the posts.
Two Melvyn Jaminet penalties to one from Japan’s Lee levelled the score as half-time approached, before France missed a golden chance to head into the break in front.
Jaminet looked set to release centre Moefana out wide with a clear run to the try line, only for the full-back to throw his pass into touch.
The visitors never looked back in the second half once Jalibert had taken out Japan centre Dylan Riley with a drop of his shoulder soon after the break, then dashed through the gap to release Lebel to score.
Maxime Lucu thought he had grabbed another minutes later, only for the try to be wiped off following a review.
Penaud scored his second of the match in the 58th minute, slicing through the Japan defence to pad out the visitors’ lead.
Moefana added another with a chip and chase down the wing three minutes later, before Bourgarit rumbled over following a drive from the French forwards.
Siosaia Fifita scored a last-minute consolation try for Japan.
“We tried to keep hold of the ball and take the game to them,” said Japan prop Keita Inagaki.
“There were lots of things we did well in the first half but we fell apart in the second.”