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Player Ratings: Japan

OPINION: Despite a promising start to the game, Japan have fallen to a disheartening 12-34 loss to England in Nice on Sunday.

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Thirteen survivors from 2022’s 13-52 defeat at Twickenham were included in the 23 for Japan’s second World Cup game of 2023 and while they were able to stay in touch with their opposition for the first three quarters of the match, they couldn’t prevent England from grabbing a try-scoring bonus point on the Côte d’Azur.

How did the Brave Blossoms rate in defeat

1. Keita Inagaki – 7/10
Strong at the set-piece, not giving an inch against a more vaunted pack. Left the field as the top tackler, with 11 to his name. Off in 50th minute.

2. Shota Horie – 4
Busy around the park but while his effort couldn’t be faulted, the accuracy was rarely up to scratch. One lineout overthrow on the five-metre line saw England grab their first try of the night – and he was spoken to by the ref for making a no-arms tackle in the process. A number of his other throws missed the mark while one was ruled not straight. Busy on defence – one of a number of players to reach the high teens.

3. Jiwon Gu – 6
Like his propping teammate, impressed at scrum time. Tackled his heart out before succumbing to a stinger of a hit. Off at half time.

4. Jack Cornelsen – 6
Industrious, particularly on defence, finishing with 15 tackles. Helped keep England honest when they attempted to drive the ball down the field from lineouts.

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5. Amato Fakatava – 5
Brought down to earth a bit after the highs of last week. Made a great cover tackle at the beginning of the second half and nabbed one lineout steal but struggled to impose himself on the larger England pack. Off in 62nd minute.

6. Michael Leitch – 6
An important tackle when England were looking likely forced a knock-on. Stuck to his guns throughout the evening, finishing as Japan’s top tackler with 14 to his name. Tried to punt the ball downfield from a turnover but only managed to send it five metres. Couldn’t take a lineout to save himself – but a lot of that was down to the thrower.

7. Pieter Labuschagne – 7
Went about his business without doing anything too flashy. Finished the match with a game-high 19 tackles to his name. Off in 74th minute.

8. Kazuki Himeno – 7
Gave his all on the offence, making carry after carry, and usually earning a few metres in the process. Forced a crucial breakdown penalty when England were hot on attack. A strong return from injury.

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9. Yutaka Nagare – 6
Looked sharp and did an excellent job maintaining the tempo when Japan had the ball on attack. Peppered England’s 22 with kicks that kept them honest. Popped once backwards box kick over his shoulder which almost led to a great result for the Brave Blossoms. Otherwise, his kicks from the base of the ruck lacked the height needed for his teammates to chase – in a major contrast to his opposition scrumhalf. Panicked when the ball spat out the back of the scrum on Japan’s goal-line, batting the ball to his No 10, and England were able to force the ball carrier over the line. England scored from the ensuing possession. Off in 65th minute.

10. Rikiya Matsuda – 4
Nailed his kicks on goal and grabbed one lineout but was otherwise inaccurate and costly. Attempted a few cross-field kicks to varying levels of success. Charged down a George Ford kick to put England under pressure inside their 22. Made a poor decision next time Japan were inside their own red zone, sending the clearing kick right into the middle of the pitch where Ford was able to slip the ball into the corner. That wasn’t the only time he handed England prime attacking ball in the first half. Penalised once for making a tackle off the ball following a defensive misread at the set-piece (although Ford missed the kick), kicked the ball directly into touch from just outside Japan’s 22 with time almost up on the clock (but England couldn’t capitalise from the ensuing possession), then crept up offside once the siren had gone to hand England three points.

11. Jone Naikabula – 5
Not a particularly busy night out on the left wing. Twinkling toes saw him evade one tackle on the sideline. Made one great counter-attacking break from a high kick but couldn’t link up with his teammates. Off in 50th minute.

12. Ryoto Nakamura – 6
Struggled to have much of an impact on either side of the ball but generally made his tackles. Rushed up in an offside position when England were on the prowl, handing Ford a simple three points from the tee. Pounced on a loose ball when an England attack went awry.

13. Tomoki Osada – 5
Kept Joe Marchand under wraps for much of the evening. Showed great composure when covering a raking kick inside Japan’s 22, securing possession under pressure and then offloading to a teammate. Tossed the ball to no one when Japan were looking to launch an attack from inside their half in the dying stages of the game.

14. Kotaro Matsushima – 7
Japan’s most threatening player with ball in hand. A clever kick-and-chase into England’s 22 saw Japan earn themselves a lineout in the danger zone. Sparked a brilliant counter-attack from deep inside Brave Blossoms territory, beating a handful of defenders before charging to the 10-metre line in England’s half.

15. Semisi Masirewa – N/A
Made an absolutely cardinal error with his first touch, knocking the ball on in goal when he could have simply touched it down for a drop-out, putting his team under immediate pressure. England kicked a penalty from the next play. Departed with an injury in the 7th minute.

Replacements:

16. Atsushi Sakate – 4
On in 50th minute. Wasn’t able to provide any impact from the pine. Like the man he replaced, struggled with his lineout deliveries.

17. Craig Millar – 7
On in 50th minute. Defended the line fiercely when England were hammering away looking for their bonus-point try. Made one great covering tackle on Jonny May with time almost up on the clock.

18. Asaeli Ai Valu – 5
On at halftime. Struggled at scrum time, giving up one penalty and generally looking under the pump at the set-piece. Defended resolutely.

19. Warner Dearns – 5
On in 62nd minute. Struggled to work his way into the match.

20. Kanji Shimokawa – N/A
On in 74th minute. Dropped a high ball as his only real contribution.

21. Naoto Saito – N/A
On in 65th minute. Spent most of the match with his team on defence.

22. Dylan Riley – 7
On in 50th minute. Put in a strong tackle for his first involvement. Looked great with the ball in hand. Has certainly earned a start for when Japan take on Argentina.

23. Lomano Lemeki – 6
On in 7th minute. Had mixed results under the high ball. Looked good when unopposed but rarely won the battle against opposition jumpers. Looked good in space and his chip-and-chase game remained strong throughout.

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