Canada and Japan last night became the Rugby World Cup's most evenly balanced opponents, when they drew for the second time in the tournament's history.
The two Pool A teams shared the honours at McLean Park in Napier after a 78th-minute penalty from Canada's first five-eighths and vice-captain Ander Monro in front of 14,335 fans. The two countries drew their 2007 World Cup match 12-all.
Both teams blew early scoring opportunities: Canada's openside flanker Chauncy O'Toole spilled the ball forward with the line open in the first minute, powerful Japan centre Alisi Tupuailai had the ball knocked from his grasp a minute later.
In the fourth minute, Canada centre DTH van der Merwe was stopped short of the line after bursting off a pass from his second five-eighths Ryan Smith who was playing his 50th test. Their forwards had stolen the ball off a Japan lineout throw.
Seconds later, Canadian prop Hubert Buydens was held up on the line by Japan's blindside flanker Sione Vatuvei. The seventh minute saw van der Merwe score the first try after some quick passing from the Canadian backs proved too slick for some poor Japanese defence. Fullback James Pritchard kicked the conversion.
Japan replied two minutes later when hooker Shota Horie crashed over three phases after Tupuailai had made another burst. The Brave Blossoms' Kiwi first five-eighths James Arlidge kicked the conversion from wide out.
Tupuailai was forced to leave the field with an injury and was replaced by Kiwi Bryce Robins.
With the wind behind them Japan had the territorial advantage until the 23rd minute when Arlidge gave them a penalty and a 10-7 lead. Canada had the opportunity to equalise in the 25th minute when Ander Monro missed a handy penalty attempt after Japan's Kiwi second five-eighths Ryan Nicholas was judged to be offside.
Japan continued to dominate and surprisingly turned down a certain three points in the 35th minute. Three minutes later winger Kosuke Endo overran a pass in an ideal scoring situation.
However he made no mistake a minute later when he scored under the posts after outstanding build-up work from Nicholas and Arlidge who added the conversion to give Japan a 17-7 halftime lead.
Canada opened the scoring in the second half with the try of the match from winger Phil Mackenzie in the 43rd minute. He used his tremendous pace to beat at least three defenders.
First five-eighths Ander Monro missed the conversion attempt.
Canada dominated possession and territory during the third quarter but the Brave Blossoms' defensive play was admirable after the conceding of Mackenzie's try. Monro succeeded with his first penalty attempt in the 62nd minute to close the gap to 17-15.
However Arlidge extended Japan's buffer three minutes later with a handy penalty. He was on target with another penalty in the 71st minute, which gave Japan a 23-15 lead.
With five minutes remaining, Monro scored a try after hitting the ball at pace following some good build-up work. He missed the conversion attempt, however he tied the score with a handy penalty a minute later.
Japan's campaign has ended and Canada has a match against the All Blacks in Wellington on Sunday. APNZ
Canada 23 (Phil Mackenzie, DTH van der Merwe, Ander Monro tries; James Pritchard con; Monro 2 pens).
Japan 23 (Shota Horie, Kosuke Endo tries; James Arlidge 2 cons, 3 pens). HT: 7-17.