Ander Monro scored a late try and kicked a high-pressure penalty goal as Canada salvaged a 23-23 draw Tuesday to deny Japan its first Rugby World Cup win in 20 years at Napier, New Zealand.
Japan led a scrappy contest 23-15 with five minutes remaining, but could not hang on. The teams drew 12-12 at the 2007 World Cup — Japan's best result since its win over Zimbabwe in 1991.
Monro missed two conversion attempts after replacing injured James Pritchard as goalkicker, but nailed the penalty goal when it mattered in the 79th minute.
"We probably had the game," Japan coach John Kirwan said. "I thought we should have won it.
"I don't know whether to be happy or sad. The boys played their hearts out.
"A few errors in the second half cost us. We had a good lead, we needed to capitalize … we didn't and it cost us in the end."
Canada captain Pat Riordan was off the field late in the second half and had to watch the comeback from the sidelines.
"Great play by the boys, great fight at the end to come back," he said. "We got out of it with a couple of points."
Canada centre DTH van der Merwe scored the opening try but hooker Shota Horie and right winger Kosuke Endo replied with tries to give Japan a 17-7 lead at halftime.
Left winger Phil MacKenzie got Canada back in the match with a try after the break to kick off a seesawing half which ended with Canada's resurgent comeback.
The Canadians have six points and are in third place in Pool A from the draw and an opening win over Tonga and now have a match remaining against top-ranked New Zealand on Sunday.
Japan finished the tournament with two points from three losses and a draw.
Rivals on the sidelines in sunny conditions in front of 14,335 fans at Napier's McLean Park, Kirwan and Canada coach Kieran Crowley had both been members of the New Zealand squad which won the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
Crowley's team was dominant early. Van der Merwe was sent bursting through on a 40-yard run after a neat pass from midfield partner Ryan Smith, and only a brilliant ankle tap from Japan fullback Shaun Webb prevented a try under the posts.
Van der Merwe was not to be denied, however, and shook off a soft tackle for a converted try moments later in the seventh minute.
Canada's lead lasted two minutes as Japan won close-range scrum and Horie barrelled over in the corner.
As the game started getting scrappy, Pritchard was felled by a huge hit going for a loose ball. He lay motionless for about a minute before being helped to his feet to go off for treatment as Conor Trainor came on as a blood replacement.
With Japan starting to get on top, fly half James Arlidge slotted over an easy penalty to make it 10-7. Canada had a chance to level straight after and, with Pritchard off the field, Monro struck the left post with his penalty attempt.
Canada got repeatedly caught out by Japan's speedy breaks as the first half drew to a close. Moments before the interval, Japan wasted a scoring chance when unmarked Endo received a dreadful pass that went behind him. But the big winger was set up under the posts for a converted try moments later to give Japan a 10-point lead.
With Pritchard out of the game, Crowley's team got a boost when MacKenzie drifted past three poor tackles for his second try of the tournament.
Monro missed the conversion but landed a penalty before Arlidge booted Japan to a 23-15 lead with two coolly struck kicks.
Kirwan, meanwhile, set a Rugby World Cup record by being involved in his 23rd match as a coach or player. Kirwan played 11 matches for the All Blacks and the Canada match was his 12th as a head coach. Jason Leonard played 22 matches for England.