Tries from Harri Morgan and Dewi Cross and the boot of Cai Evans steered Wales U20s to victory against Japan.
Wales U20 team claimed a narrow 18-17 win of their U20 championship last night against a determined Japan side in Perpignan, making it two wins from three in a challenging pool.
In the first few minutes, Japan showed their ability to frustrate the opposition, winning turnover ball on their own 5m line as Wales threatened to score. Japan threw a flat pass from midfield to their danger man, wing Halatoa Vailea, who possessed enough strength and guile to cross Wales' line for the first score of the match on eleven minutes. Fly-half Hiroto Mamada failed to convert.
Just over a quarter of an hour in, Ioan Nicholas showed his trademark feint to draw Vailea and send Dewi Cross charging down the left wing, where he found fellow Osprey Harri Morgan with the inside pass. The fleet-footed scrum-half touched down under the posts for a superb score, converted by fullback Cai Evans to take the lead 7-5.
Wales lost openside Lennon Greggains to injury, replacing him with fellow Dragon Ben Fry for his debut. Japan were deep in Welsh territory and soon regained the lead, rumbling over for their second try. The conversion was missed, but they now led 7-10.
The game had become a scrappy affair, and Wales' attack was struggling to click against the dogged Japanese defence. So when a penalty presented itself on the half-hour, Evans calmly kicked the three points to equalise.
Another penalty from Evans then gave Wales the lead for the second time with three minutes left of the half. They went agonisingly close to scoring a try before the break, though, with an eye-catching run from debutant Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler into Japan's 22. However, as the ball shifted left it was knocked on in the tackle.
At the start of the second half, a scything dash up the wing from wing Corey Baldwin almost resulted in a try for Wales, but it was only more exasperation as they knocked on near the 5m line.
Wales brought on reinforcements shortly into the second half - some enforced - one of whom, loosehead Rhys Carre, showed up particularly well in the scrum, along with a ball-carrying prowess that put Japan on edge.
Baldwin, supreme with the ball in hand whenever he had the chance, let loose in 55th minute with a break, drawing the defender and slipping the ball to Dewi Cross for his first Wales U20 try. The conversion was wide, but Wales had earned their first buffer on the scoreboard: 18-10.
They then reshuffled their back line, moving Evans to fly-half, Cross to fullback and introducing Ryan Conbeer on the wing.
If the game was scrappy in the second quarter, it was even more so entering the final 20. Wales were penalised for an early engagement at the scrum with 15 minutes to go, with Japan opting for a lineout with an easy three points available to them.
As fate would have it, a well-manoeuvred move to get the ball out wide with alacrity resulted in a near-try, as the lightning Vailea knocked on in reaching out for the try-line.
Wales put on a terrifically resilient show in defending a frenzy of Japanese attempts at their line, but the effort eventually told when the Baby Blossoms scored with a diving effort from wing Siosaia Fifita from close range. Mamada converted to bring them within a single point of Wales.
Conbeer sprinted after the restart like a man possessed, and was able to tackle Vailea into touch inside his 22. Such moments of commitment can be game-changing. Wales, despite being unable to claim a third try, were able to pen Japan in and see out the final minutes to claim a difficult win.
Wales will now play Argentina U20s on Tuesday June 12th in Narbonne in a bid to finish the U20s Championship in fifth place.