Tonga win ends Japan's Rugby World Cup hopes

Kurt Morath became the tournament's highest points-scorer with 31 after kicking 16 on Wednesday.

Story highlights

  • Tonga secure a hard-earned 31-18 win over Japan at the Rugby World Cup
  • It is Tonga's first victory of the tournament, with Kurt Morath kicking 16 points
  • Tonga must beat France in their final Pool A match to stand any chance of advancing
  • Defeat means Japan are eliminated from the tournament in New Zealand
Tonga's Rugby World Cup dream is still alive following Wednesday's make-or-break victory over Japan, winning 31-18 for the team's first victory of the 2011 tournament in New Zealand.
The boot of flyhalf Kurt Morath proved the difference between the two teams in Whangarei, with the 26-year-old scoring 16 points and missing just one of seven kicks at goal.
The result lifted Tonga, coached by former New Zealand center Isitolo Maka, up to third position in Pool A -- five points behind second-placed France ahead of their clash on October 1.
To reach the quarterfinals, the Pacific Islanders must now beat Marc Lievremont's team and hope other results go in their favor.
Japan's participation in the seventh edition of the four-yearly event is now over following a third successive defeat.
Coach John Kirwan, a World Cup winner with New Zealand at the inaugural 1987 tournament, now has just one more chance to give the Brave Blossoms a second World Cup victory -- after 1991's win over Zimbabwe -- in Tuesday's final outing against Canada.
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Japan matched Tonga's three tries on Wednesday, but New Zealand-born flyhalf James Arlidge missed all his conversion attempts.
Tonga drew first blood when back-row forward Vili Ma'afu touched down for his second international try after six minutes.
Japan were not behind for long though, with prop Kensuke Hatakeyama scoring despite suggestions the ball had already been touched down once before it crossed the Tonga line.
The two teams were level for just one minute, with lock Lui Lokotui putting the finishing touches to a swift Tonga move to make the score 10-5.
Morath converted to extend Tonga's lead to seven points, but Japan fought back again when flanker Michael Leitch -- another New Zealander -- held off several challenges to score his team's second try.
Tonga once again stretched their lead through the steady kicking of Morath, before winger Fetu'u Vainikolo broke through the Japanese ranks to make the score 26-13.
There was hope for Japan when Tonga were reduced to 14 men after substitute Halani Aulika was sent to the sin bin with 19 minutes remaining, and a try from center Alisi Tupuaile made the score 28-18.
However, Morath sealed the victory with a penalty after 66 minutes.
Meanwhile, Australia will be captained by scrumhalf Will Genia for Friday's Pool C clash with the United States.
The Wallabies' regular captain James Horwill will sit out the match in Wellington with a shoulder injury, giving the 23-year-old Genia the chance to become Australia's 78th skipper.
"Willie's ready for the responsibility," Australia coach Robbie Deans, a former New Zealand fullback, told the World Cup's official website.
"He's got a lot of background in leadership, he leads in games, he's part of the leadership group. [The decision was] pretty straightforward."
Australia, two-time world champions, have made nine changes to the side upset 15-6 by Ireland last Saturday, but Deans denied it was a sign that they could underestimate the U.S. team.
"It's exactly the opposite. We are according the USA full respect by opting for the changes we have made, in order to have a totally fresh and focused team."