VANCOUVER — Mark Anscombe saw some of the same issues that plagued his predecessor bubble to the surface in his debut as head coach of the Canadian men's rugby team.
Kotaro Matsushima and Takeshi Kizu scored tries and Yu Tamura kicked four penalties and added two converts Saturday as Japan overcame a red card in the second half to defeat Canada 26-22 in an international test match.
Taylor Paris, Ray Barkwill, Jamie Cudmore and Aaron Carpenter replied with tries for the hosts, but Gordon McRorie hit on just 1 of 4 conversion attempts. McRorie and Brock Staller also each missed a penalty kick as No. 18 Canada left 12 points on the table and committed a number of other mistakes against their 10th-ranked opponents.
"We're extremely frustrated," said Canadian captain Jamie Cudmore. "To play as well as we did, four tries to two, and to still come out losers at the end, that's heartbreaking for us.
"We've got to work a lot harder and be a lot more precise so that things like this don't happen again because I'm pretty tired of losing."
Anscombe took over the program in March after fellow New Zealeander Kieran Crowley left for a club in Italy. Like Saturday, Canada played well for long periods under Crowley, who led the country to the last two World Cups, but were too often undone by key errors at crucial times.
"I'd say our decision making, and that comes from conditioning, is questionable," said Anscombe. "We got sloppy there and that cost us the game."
Down 17-16 and playing with 14 men after Yoshiya Hosoda was sent off in the 54th minute, Japan kept coming and grabbed the lead for good in the 70th when Matsushima ran the ball over the line before Tamura's convert made it 23-17.
Tamura then nailed his fourth penalty to stretch Japan's lead to nine in the 77th minute, but Carpenter scored a try in the 80th to cut the deficit to 26-22 after McRorie missed a quickly taken convert to conserve the few precious seconds remaining.
Canada drove down deep into Japanese territory in added time after the restart, but couldn't push the ball over the line as the visitors held firm.
"I commend the guys' attitude," said Anscombe. "That was brilliant, but at international level, you've got to kick your goals, and we didn't. If we'd only kicked one of them, then we're taking a shot to win the game.
"It's tough, but that's what it's all about."
Anscombe named a mix of youth and experience to the squad because of injuries and rugby sevens commitments as the Canadians, who play Russia and Italy later this month in two more exhibition fixtures, begin to build towards qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.
Trailing 13-12 at the half, Cudmore — one of eight 2015 World Cup veterans in Canada's starting 15 — bowled his way over in the 46th minute for a 17-13 lead after McRorie missed the convert.
Japan, which stunned South Africa at the World Cup and is also taking its first steps towards hosting the 2019 tournament, cut the lead to one in the 52nd minute when Tamura booted his third penalty.
But Hosoda, in his test debut for Japan, was sent off just two minutes later after cleaning out McRorie, who wasn't contesting a breakdown deep in Canada's end.
Staller missed a penalty in the 58th and McRorie pushed another kick wide in the 60th, points it turned out Canada would desperately need.
Saturday marked the first international men's fifteens match on the artificial turf at B.C. Place Stadium, a venue that attracted more than 60,000 spectators over two days for the inaugural HSBC Canada Sevens rugby tournament in March. Attendance against Japan was announced at 10,250.
Canada grabbed a 5-0 lead in the seventh minute on a Paris try that McRorie failed to convert.
After Japan responded with Tamura penalty to make it 5-3 in the 11th, Canada scored its second try in the 21st when Barkwill finished off some patient build-up play to make it 12-3 with McRorie's conversion.
Mistakes started to creep into the Canadian game as the half wore on, and Nick Blevins was stripped of the ball by Japan's Taiyo Ando, who broke the other way on a move that would eventually lead to Kizu's try and Tamura's conversion in the 34th minute to cut the deficit to 12-10.
Canada's Matt Evans then compounded the problem by dropping a simple pass that opened the door for another Tamura penalty right before halftime that made it 13-12 for Japan.
"We gave up four penalties in the last 10 minutes (of the first half) and they got 10 points from it," said Anscombe. "Instead of having a handy lead, we're going into halftime behind."
Notes: Canada will meet No. 19 Russia next Saturday in Calgary before facing No. 14 Italy in Toronto on June 26. ... Canada is now 8-15-2 all-time against Japan, with the last victory coming in 2005.
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