June 10 (Reuters) - World Cup hosts Japan opened their mid-year internationals with a morale-boosting 33-21 victory over Romania in Kyushu on Saturday, the Brave Blossoms staving off a furious second half comeback after looking imperious for 50 minutes.
Utilising their pace, movement and coach Jamie Joseph’s expansive tactics to perfection, Japan scored three tries to Romania’s two as flyhalf Jumpei Ogura tallied 18 points from seven kicks in an impressive display of all-round rugby.
The teams are separated by just five places in the rankings but world number 11 Japan looked a class above their opponents for much of the contest until Romania slowed the game down and fought back gamely in the latter stages.
The visitors started well, however, and dominated the early exchanges by keeping the ball in the hands of their hulking forwards to force two penalties that Florin Vlaicu slotted over for a 6-0 lead within six minutes.
The Brave Blossoms rallied from the early onslaught with winger Akihito Yamada responding in emphatic fashion with a brilliant solo try after 13 minutes when Romania lost possession in the tackle in midfield.
Ogura added the extras and another three penalties, with Vlaicu slotting home another in between, before winger Kenki Fukuoka touched down in the corner on the stroke of halftime after a sweeping cross-field move by the home side.
Ogura stepped up to send over a tricky conversion in the corner to give the home side a deserved 23-9 halftime lead at a packed Umakana Yokana Stadium in Kumamoto.
Japan pulled further clear immediately after the break as Waikato Chiefs back rower Michael Leitch burst through a gaping hole in the Romania defence to touch down unopposed and Ogura added another penalty on 50 minutes for a 33-9 lead.
Romania were looking weary but their forwards finally got their hands on the ball to shove number eight Mihai Macovei over the line from a driving maul following a lineout in the corner.
The home side were showing the first signs of fatigue and replacement prop Heiichiro Ito further hampered their cause when he was sin-binned on 63 minutes for bringing down a maul.
Romania immediately made the extra man count with Tonga-born winger Fonovai Tangimana bustling over after a well-worked scrum, which Vlaicu converted to make it 33-21 after 66 minutes as the visitors took complete control.
Japan, who next face Ireland in back-to-back home tests over the next two weekends, were clinging on but were able to relieve the pressure once they were back up to 15 men, much to the relief of an increasingly nervous home crowd. (Writing by John O‘Brien in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)