It was a Russian who kicked off Rugby World Cup 2019, another who scored the tournament’s first try but the last laugh most certainly belonged to Japan as the hosts eventually got off to a flying start.
That was thanks to wing Korato Matsushima, whose hat-trick of tries set alight a celebratory evening for the sport in its first World Cup on Asian soil. Matsushima’s pace, some dazzling, high-tempo backline play to put him in position to score, aided and abetted by rampaging front and back-row units, will have put Ireland on notice of the threats coming their way when the two sides meet in Shizuoka a week today.
There was much to admire about the way the Brave Blossoms overcame the huge expectation of a nation on home soil and a sloppy start which saw Russian left wing Kiril Golosnitskiy take advantage of a misread bounce from a Vaz Artemyev kick return by Japan’s to score inside five minutes, the fastest try in a World Cup opening match, converted by Yury Kushnarev.
Enter Matsushima with tries in the 11th, 38th and 68th minute, with flanker Pieter Labuschagne chipping in with another score on 46 minutes as he broke free to run in having ripped the ball from lock Andrey Ostrikov 25 metres out.
“It is my first three tries (in one game) as a Japanese player,” Matsushima said. “We were able to connect with each other and the roar of the fans became our driving force. I want our strong momentum to win to carry into the next match (against Ireland).”
Attack coach Tony Brown had said on Thursday that Japan never attacked the same way from game to game but Ireland will have been given plenty to chew on with what the New Zealander is able to extract from this Japanese side. Head coach and fellow Kiwi Jamie Joseph was already looking for improvements from his side ahead of the Ireland clash, for which his team has an extra 48 hours to prepare with Ireland not playing until tomorrow.
"The game was a challenge for us and the boys were nervous,” Joseph said. “We said before the game, it is all about expectation and the guys always prepare well but as I said earlier on, you realise just how much pressure there is on the guys and we're proud of the way they came through in the end.
"We made a lot of unforced errors. Our kicking game was pretty poor tonight so we're going to fix it up quickly.”
JAPAN: W Tupou (R Yamanaka, 70); K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, L Lemeki; Y Tamura (R Matsuda, 66), Y Nagare (F Tanaka, 60); K Inagaki (I Nakajima, 54), S Horie (A Sakate, 74), A Valu (J Koo, 54); W Van der Walt (L Thompson, 60), J Moore; M Leitch (H Tui, 70), P Labuschagne, K Himeno.
RUSSIA: V Artemyev; G Davydov, V Ostroushko, D Gerasimov (V Sozonov, 67), K Golosnitskiy; Y Kushnarev (R Gaisin 64), V Dorofeev (A Perov, 64); V Morozov (E Matveev, 64), S Selskii (A Polivalov, 64), K Gotovtsev (A Bitiev, 67); A Ostrikov, B Fedotko; V Zhivatov, T Gadzhiev (A Sychev, 64), N Vavilin.
Replacement not used: A Garbuzov
Referee: N Owens (Wales)