US center Tomasi Takau opened the scoring with an early try next to the posts, but Matt Alexander surprisingly missed the conversion. The industrious Japanese offense then claimed the next two tries, one just before half, to take a 12-5 advantage at intermission.
Five minutes after the turnaround Alexander hit a penalty goal to bring the US to within four, but as neither side could finish its second-half chances, there the score remained for nearly 25 minutes. Japan made several long breaks, but were tracked down and otherwise contained by improved US tackling; while the visitors let a couple of opportunities go to waste by turning the ball over in contact.
The comeback started with just over ten minutes to go, when hooker Sean Allen took a tighthead at midfield. Picking the ball up from the back of the scrum and streaking past the undefended left side, halfback Bachelet ranged far downfield before working a give-and-go sequence with the supporting Alexander and scoring under the posts. Alexander's conversion made the count 15-12.
Staying with a gameplan that featured the driving maul, the US then built pressure on the Japanese line. Right at full time captain Lyle scored an unconverted try in the corner, making the final 20-12.
Hitherto suspect on defense, the US looked more like the stingy outfit it was in 1996, when it allowed the fewest tries in the competition. Making his first start at fullback, Penn State's Kurt Shuman graded out a bit shaky under high ball but well on positional play, registering several important stops and knocking one player from the match.
"It was a deserving victory in the last ten minutes of the contest," US coach Jack Clark commented afterward. Speaking to the fact that Japan downed Canada 32-31 a week ago, while the US had suffered two uncharacteristic losses and been disrupted by injuries and the general rigors of a longish May trip, he added, "Osaka is a very difficult place to get a win. I'm extremely proud of our team."
The win pulls the 1-2 US into a tie with Japan for third place, each with four points. Canada, which downed Hong Kong 35-27 yesterday to earn the Pacific Rim's first road win of 1997 (counting today's US victory, just two of six away teams have won), is in first with a 2-1 record and nine points, while Hong Kong is 2-1 with eight points. The Asian teams visit North America in June, and all of the USA's remaining games are at home, in San Francisco.