Japan put Italy to sword for 10th straight rugby win
Italy's Manoa Vosawai (2nd left) is tackled by Japan's full-back Ayumu Goromaru (2nd right) and captain Michael Lieitch during a friendly rugby union match in Tokyo on June 21, 2014 - by Toru Yamanaka
Male Sau's bulldozing try on the hour mark ultimately proved the difference for Japan but the home side had to survive a nervous finish before recording their first win in six meetings with the Azzurri.
"The great thing today was we won," Japan coach Eddie Jones told reporters. "We didn't play well but it's a testament to the guys that we're beginning to win when things are not going well for us."
Japan struggled in the lineout but they punched above their weight in the scrum, while Italy coach Jacques Brunel slammed his butter-fingered players as the Six Nations side lost their ninth game in a row.
"We made way too many mistakes," fumed the Frenchman. "We gave away too many penalties and committed 12 turnovers -- you can't beat a team like Japan if you play like that."
Japan are now set to break into the world's top 10 for the first time, but Jones insisted all that mattered was next year's World Cup.
"That's all I'm worried about," said the former Australia coach. "We've got to keep winning but we've got to win at the World Cup.
"It's no use winning up to the World Cup and not winning once you get there -- like the (Japan) soccer team," added Jones, acutely aware that Japan have won just once at rugby's showcase tournament, against Zimbabwe in 1991.
"I want to make the quarter-finals of the World Cup and become the most popular sports team in Japan. There's no reason why we can't."
- 'A hard day at the office' -
Japan are drawn in Pool B at the World Cup in England, alongside South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and the United States.
They disappointed at the 2011 World Cup under former All Black John Kirwan, beaten by hosts New Zealand, France and Tonga before drawing 23-23 with Canada.
Full-back Ayumu Goromaru kicked 16 points for the Japanese, who came into the game boosted by a 37-29 away victory over World Cup opponents the United States last weekend.
Akihito Yamada's fifth-minute try gave Japan the early initiative until a penalty try awarded after the winger's knock-on gave Italy a foothold, the first half ending 13-13.
Italy's resistance appeared to crack when Sau crashed over following sustained Japanese pressure in the 60th minute, but a breakaway try from Robert Barbieri made for a cliff-hanging final five minutes.
"It was a hard day at the office," said Jones. "But the scrum held up very well. To beat them today was a wonderful step for the team but we're a long way from where we want to be.
"But we don't have to be at our best until the World Cup. Test rugby is never perfect rugby. It's just about winning."
Italy captain Quintin Geldenhuys paid tribute to Japan.
"All credit to them," said the hulking lock. "They are a completely different team from the one we played three years ago. They've improved a lot in all phases. Now they're playing in the men's league."