Japan tame Russia in World Cup opener
MATCH REPORT: Japan open their World Cup with 30-10 win over Russia on Friday.
Japan’s prolific wing Kotaro Matsushima became the first player to score three tries in a World Cup opening game after a brilliant solo effort with just over 10 minutes left in Tokyo.
The Brave Blossoms looked to have caught stage fright in their the Pool A clash and found themselves behind after just five minutes before Matsushima came to the rescue by scoring three of Japan’s four tries.
“Straight from the kick off they put us under extreme pressure with their gameplan, they really tested us today,” said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
“I think with the nerves out of the way, we can start looking forward to (their next game against) Ireland.”
Japan strode out to booming taiko drums greeted by a deafening roar from a packed crowd of 45,000 but it was Russia’s “Bears” who began the sharper.
Yu Tamura’s charged-down kick had almost led to a score before William Tupou spilled a high catch, allowing Kirill Golosnitskiy the simplest of tries.
Tupou made amends in the 11th minute with a deft reverse pass for Matsushima to dive into the corner.
Russia came back again when Nikita Vavilin broke clear, only for Vladimir Ostroushko to wastefully kick the ball away.
A chip-through from Yury Kushnarev triggered further panic as Golosnitskiy again threatened.
But with the Russians wilting as half-time approached, Japan caught their opponents cold.
Sucking the Russian defenders in on the left, Japan switched back the other way and Ryoto Nakamura found Matsushima out wide to give the home side the lead.
Leading 12-7 at the half, Tamura extended Japan’s advantage with an early penalty before Pieter Labuschagne ripped the ball from his opposite number and raced clear to score Japan’s third try.
A Kushnarev penalty closed the deficit to 20-10 on the hour-mark but Tamura kicked a three-pointer before Matsushima completed a superb hat-trick with a mazy run that left a trail of Russian defenders for dead.
Japan were once destroyed 145-17 by New Zealand at the World Cup but they are a different proposition these days and have become a regular fixture among rugby’s top 10-ranked teams since winning three games at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones.
The home side, who produced one of sport’s great upsets with a jaw-dropping 34-32 defeat of South Africa in their opening game four years ago, never looked like relinquishing control after Matsushima settled their nerves.
Japan, who earned a bonus point for scoring four tries, face Ireland – the world’s top-ranked side – in Shizuoka next weekend while the Bears try to lick their wounds before taking on Samoa after a quick, four-day turnaround.
Moment of the match: Russia wing Kirill Golosnitskiy scoring the first try of the 2019 tournament. It is a moment the hosts would rather forget, however, it was simply a phenomenal moment for the World Cup.
Villain of the match: Overall the match was played in good spirit. There were a few unforced handling errors from the teams which could be due to nerves or the weather, but certainly no villains.
Man of the match: The Russia side certainly shocked the hosts, players like Kirill Golosnitskiy and Vasily Artemyev were very influential, while the pack made huge tackle. However, they lost their way in the second half and allowed Japan to run the show. For Japan, captain Michael Leitch was impressive. Pieter Labuschagne also produced a noteworthy performance and scored a try. However, our nod goes Japan’s hat-trick hero Kotaro Matsushima.
Tries: Matsushima 3, Labuschagne
Cons: Tamura, Matsuda
Pens: Tamura 2
Japan: 15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lava Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Asaeli Ai Valu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Koo Ji-won, 19 Luke Thompson, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Russia: 15 Vasily Artemyev (captain), 14 German Davydov, 13 Vladimir Ostroushko, 12 Dmitry Gerasimov, 11 Kirill Golosnitskiy, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Vasily Dorofeev, 8 Nikita Vavilin, 7 Tagir Gadzhiev, 6 Vitaly Zhivatov, 5 Bogdan Fedotko, 4 Andrey Ostrikov, 3 Kirill Gotovtsev, 2 Stanislav Selskii, 1 Valery Morozov.
Replacements: 16 Evgeny Matveev, 17 Andrei Polivalov, 18 Azamat Bitiev, 19 Andrey Garbuzov, 20 Anton Sychev, 21 Dmitry Perov, 22 Ramil Gaisin, 23 Vladislav Sozonov.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)