|2019 Rugby World Cup: Japan v Russia|
|Japan: (12) 30|
|Tries: Matsushima 3, Labuschagne; Pens: Tamura 2 Cons: Tamura, Matsuda|
|Russia: (7) 10|
|Tries: Golosnitsky Pens: Kushnarev Cons: Kushnarev|
Wing Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick as hosts Japan got their World Cup campaign under way with a 30-10 victory against Russia.
Russia took an early lead through wing Kirill Golosnitskiy, but Matsushima replied for the hosts.
Matsushima grabbed his second to put Japan ahead just before half-time and Pieter Labushagne broke away to add another after the break.
Matsushima then ran through to claim a four-try bonus point for his side.
Japan, in Pool A with Scotland, Ireland and Samoa, are aiming to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time.
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World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said before the tournament that “rugby mania” was going to captivate the nation and Japan’s comeback in front of a vociferous crowd gave the tournament an early boost.
In Shibuya, home to Tokyo’s famous crossing, there is only an occasional sign that a World Cup is taking place just an hour away.
But travelling to the stadium, the train filled with more and more Japan shirts while every metro stop and the nearest station to the venue was awash with red and white.
Once inside the near 50,000 capacity venue, supporters watched an opening ceremony like no other in rugby – reflecting the World Cup’s first visit to Asia – and cheered it on enthusiastically at every stage.
In 2015, Japan were the first team in history to win three World Cup games and miss out on the quarter-finals and coach Jamie Joseph has made it clear that their objective is to make it out of the pool stages this time around.
But they will be competing with Ireland, Scotland and Samoa for one of the top two spots in Pool A to achieve that goal and there will be no room for any more nervous starts.
Nervous start, fast finish
There was no shortage of noise from Japanese fans, but it was an error-ridden first 10 minutes for the Brave Blossoms, some of whom had admitted that the increased media presence at their captain’s run on Thursday made them nervous.
Perhaps as a result of these nerves, full-back William Tupou dropped an up and under kick and Russia wing Golosnitskiy scooped it up to score after just five minutes.
The hosts quickly regrouped, though, and centre Timothy Lafaele threw a shrewd backhand pass to Tupou, who sent Matsushima through for a try on the right wing.
Russia repeatedly tested Japan with probing kicks – and it was a test which the hosts frequently failed, something Scotland and Ireland may exploit later on.
Matushima looked to have lifted Tokyo’s spirits as he flipped onto his back and just managed to get the ball down across the tryline before going into touch. The wing did not have control of the ball as it touched the ground and no try was given, but that did not slow him down.
He had no trouble a few minutes later as centre Ryoto Nakamura’s pass found him with much more space to run round Russia captain Vasily Artemyev and give his side the lead before half-time.
And Russia’s lack of fitness cost them after the break as Japan made use of their speed.
Tamura extended Japan’s advantage with a penalty before Labushange ripped the ball out of Andrei Ostrikov’s hands and showed impressive pace as he covered half the pitch to score his first international try.
Russia clawed back some points with a Yury Kushnarev penalty, but Japan again responded through Tamura, opting for a greater lead rather than going for a four-try bonus point.
The fourth try soon followed, though, as Vasily Artemyev’s clearing kick went wrong and the ball ended up in the arms of Matsushima once again, allowing the wing to speed past Russian defenders for his hat-trick.
Japan’s next match will be against Ireland on 28 September, while Russia face Samoa on 24 September.
Player of the match – Matsushima
With 102 metres run and seven defenders beaten, pacy wing Matsushima put in a promising player of the match performance with his hat-trick heroics in Tokyo.
Japan: Tupou; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Lemeki; Tamura, Nagare; Inagaki, Horie, Valu; Van der Walt, Moore; Leitch, Labuschagne, Himeno.
Replacements: Sakate, Nakajima, Ji-won, Thompson, Tui, Tanaka, Matsuda, Yamanaka
Russia: Artemyev; Davydov, Ostroushko, Gerasimov, Golosnitskiy; Kushnarev, Dorofeev; Morozov, Selskii, Gotovtsev, Ostrikov, Fedotko, Zhivatov, Gadzhiev, Vavilin
Replacements: Matveev, Polivalov, Bitiev, Garbuzov, Sychev, Perov, Gaisin, Sozonov