PARIS — Japan almost beat France for the first time and had to settle for a 23-23 draw in their rugby test on Saturday.
Japan scored three tries to two, and the last try in the 73rd minute, the equalizer by replacement prop Shintaro Ishihara. But flyhalf Yu Tamura couldn’t convert it.
France won all three previous matchups with Japan easily, but the Tricolors are suffering from low morale after six consecutive tests without a win since the Six Nations. Coach Guy Noves tried to inject some life into the side by making eight changes after the drab loss to South Africa last week, but France was dominated by Japan. France has only three wins in 11 tests this year.
Japan, bolstered by an impressive 39-6 win over Tonga in Toulouse, made all the running at U Arena, pinning France in its own half and tearing through the French with panache. But 15 turnovers by Japan undermined its attack.
After trading early penalties, France blew a try when prop Jefferson Poirot knocked on at a ruck on the try-line.
But Japan hooker Shota Horie made no mistake, collecting a pass on the left wing to score in the corner.
Harumichi Tatekawa then had to make a try-saving tackle on France wing Gabriel Lacroix to hold on to the lead, but France grabbed it against the run of play thanks to Francois Trinh-Duc’s second penalty and a Rabah Slimani try on halftime after the French forwards pounded the Japan try-line.
France’s lead held up for only moments into the second half, when center Timothy Lafaele fended off two defenders and scored between two more.
Tamura’s conversion gave Japan the lead for the second time. Flanker Kazuki Himeno couldn’t extend it when his try was disallowed because of a forward pass.
France hit back with a Lacroix try from a perfectly weighted cross kick by Trinh-Duc for 20-15, but Lacroix was yellow-carded in the 61st for taking a player out in the air.
Penalties by each side made it 23-18, then Ishihara barged through the middle of a ruck and history beckoned.
Japan couldn’t finish off the French but achieved its best result against a tier one side since toppling South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.