Fiji required a massive defensive stand in the dying minutes to defeat Japan 27-22 and book their spot in the Pacific Nations Cup Final.
The Fijians outscored Japan three tries to two but only managed three points in the second half, with all their tries coming in an eight-minute spell before the break.
Two late yellow cards left Fiji’s defence scrambling to keep out a powerful Japanese scrum but they clung on, booking their place in the final where they will face either Tonga or Samoa on Monday.
Japan welcomed back a number of their top stars including Super Rugby trio Michael Leitch, Hendrik Tui and Fumiaki Tanaka, along with full-back Ayumu Goromaru.
Goromaru added three straight penalties to give Japan a perfect start at 9-0, before Josh Matavesi responded with his first three-pointer.
Japan’s controlled opening was a promising sign for their coach Eddie Jones but Fiji turned the game around when Tevita Cavubati broke the defensive line and strode over for the game’s first try.
Matavesi wasn’t far behind with Fiji’s second score after good work from Napolioni Nalaga and the backs were weaving their magic by the time Metuisela Talebula crossed for try number three, despite a suspected knock-on, throwing Fiji into a 24-9 lead from 9-0 down.
Japan persisted to attack with the scrum close to Fiji’s line but couldn’t break through as they went into half-time in Toronto way behind on the scoreboard.
Fiji started the second half by going down to 14 men after Malakai Ravulo killed the ball at the breakdown and Japan capitalised on their man advantage when Akihito Yamada went over in the corner.
Just as in the first half Japan started in control, although they were kept out by some monster tackles from the Fijians.
Goromaru’s fourth penalty put Japan right back in the contest at 24-17 but Matavesi replied with a second penalty of his own to restore that ten-point gap.
Michael Broadhurst’s crucial try however set up a tense finish after Japan’s scrum powered forward, Tui grafting hard before his back row colleague crossed for Japan’s second try.
Goromaru’s missed conversion kept Fiji five points ahead and Matavesi missed the chance to extend that lead with a penalty that fell short from long range.
Japan however never gave up and forced Fiji to concede a high number of penalties near their own line with time running out.
Leone Nakarawa was the first to depart to the sin bin, shortly followed by Campese Ma’afu as the Fijian scrum buckled under the pressure.
Japan however just couldn’t find a way through the defence, with Fiji’s tacklers holding firm to deny Japan victory and book the Fijians’ spot in the Pacific Nations Cup Final.
Tries: Cavubati, Matavesi, Talebula
Cons: Matavesi 3
Pens: Matavesi 2
Yellow Cards: Ravulo, Nakarawa, Ma’afu
Tries: Yamada, Broadhurst
Pens: Goromaru 4
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Henry Seniloli, 8 Akapusi Qera (c), 7 Malakai Ravulo, 6 Dom Waqaniburotu, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Tuapati Talemaitoga, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Isei Colati, 19 Nemia Soqeta, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Waisea Nayacalevu.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Kotaro Matsushima, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Michael Broadhurst, 5 Shoji Ito, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Hisateru Hirashima, 17 Hiroki Yuhara, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Justin Ives, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Kosei Ono, 23 Yoshikazu Fujita.
* Planet Rugby