All Blacks hold on for victory against Japan after Brodie Retallick sees red

New Zealand kicked off their end-of-year tour with a 38-31 victory over Japan on Saturday, but the makeshift All Blacks side were given a huge scare in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

The visitors played the last 14 minutes a man down after the lock Brodie Retallick was sent off for a dangerous clearout, but just held on for victory despite a late try from the outstanding Brave Blossoms flanker Kazuki Himeno.

A three-try blitz had put New Zealand 21-3 ahead after 32 minutes but Japan, who have never beaten the All Blacks, struck back with two of their own to cut the deficit to four points at half-time. The wing Caleb Clarke bulldozed his way through the defence soon after the break to renew New Zealand’s breathing space but the Japan lock Warner Dearns slashed it back by charging down a Finlay Christie box kick and gathering the ball to score.

The All Blacks No 8 Hoskins Sotutu barged his way across the line on the hour mark and that proved enough of a cushion, even after Retallick was shown a red card in his 99th Test for his clearout on Himeno.

Japan, who defended valiantly and attacked with every scrap of possession they earned, might take consolation from by far the lowest margin of defeat in their five official Tests against the three-time world champions.

The centre Dylan Riley had a hand in both of Japan’s first-half tries, his chip resulting in the fly-half Takuya Yamasawa’s score before an outrageous offload out of the tackle, sending the scrum-half Yutaka Nagare in on the stroke of half-time.

Samisoni Taukei’aho, a late replacement for the injured Dane Coles at hooker, had a similar impact for the All Blacks with a line break to send Retallick in for the opening try and a long lineout throw that set up the wing Sevu Reece’s score.

New Zealand’s second try in the 26th minute had an element of luck to it with the centre Braydon Ennor crossing after what looked like a clear forward pass from Richie Mo’unga to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the lead-up.

The All Blacks conclude their tour with matches against Wales, Scotland and England over the next three weeks, while Japan play England at Twickenham and France in Toulouse next month.