Wales captain Tommy Reffell admitted his team were given a real scare by Japan at the U20 World Cup as they failed to make the tournament semi-finals.
Reffell’s side held on to beat Japan 18-17 at the World Rugby Under 20 Championships to finish as runner-up to New Zealand in their pool.
It means they missed out on the last four and will play in the knockout phase for places between 5-8 with Italy, Argentina and Australia. Their next game will be against the young Pumas on 12 June.
Reffell said: “We knew Japan would have had their eyes on us at the start of the tournament so to come away with a win was good. “Credit to them, they made the scoreline a lot closer than we would have wanted it to be. We need to work on our discipline and maul defence in training.”
Wing Halatoa Vailea drew first blood for the effervescent Japanese with an 11th minute try, but four minutes later Ioan Nicholas started a move that ended with scrum half Harri Morgan crossing at the posts for a try that Cai Evans improved to give Wales the lead.
Wales lost Dragons back row man Lennon Greggains to injury and then conceded a close range try to the pumped up Japanese pack. That made it 10-7 to a side that had been beaten 67-0 by New Zealand and 54-19 by Australia, although two penalties from Evans made it 13-10 to Wales at the break.
Head coach Geraint Lewis strengthened the side off the bench in the second half and would have been delighted to see Corey Baldwin give Dewi Cross the chance to show his turn of speed to cross in the left corner to stretch the advantage to eight points.
With five minutes left to play the gap was closed to a single point when wing Siosaia Fifita crossed from close range and Horoto Mamada converted. That was as good as it got for the Baby Blossoms as Wales confined them to their 22 for the final few minutes and held on for their second win of the competition.
With New Zealand edging arch-rivals Australia 27-18 it means the highest Wales can hope to finish is fifth. To do that they will have to beat Argentina and then overcome the winners of the game against Italy and Australia.
The Italians, who beat Wales in the Under 20 Six Nations in Colwyn Bay, beat Argentina 20-26 to add to their 27-26 triumph over Scotland. Their only defeat came against England, 43-5.
England took the No 1 seeding after romping through their three pool games. They beat the Pumas 39-18 and the Scots 35-10 to earn a semi-final clash against host nation France.
The other top-flight semi-final will see New Zealand face South Africa. In the third tier, Scotland meet Ireland, who were beaten by France (26-24), South Africa (30-17) and Georgia (24-20), while the Georgians face Japan.