Japan launched Asia’s first Rugby World Cup with a victory the host nation craved as they beat Russia 30-10 at Tokyo Stadium.
Here’s some key talking points:
JAPAN FIND SPARK EVENTUALLY
It wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination but carrying the weight of a nation must be serious pressure, especially with a vocal Japanese home crowd roaring all evening.
While many expected the hosts to stick 40-plus points on the Russians, it was far from a cruise and both sides played out an entertaining battle for long stretches of the match.
Trailing up as far as the 36th minute, the Brave Blossoms had a try disallowed for failing to ground the ball properly. And four minutes later, Kotaro Matsushima put the hosts ahead, touching down for his eighth try in seven matches.
The Sunwolves winger, 23, went on to complete his hat-trick with 11 minutes remaining, running the ball home from 25 yards out.
In fairness to Jamie Joseph’s side, they were smart with the ball, sought territory and possession at all times, but could not make it show on the scoreboard.
To underline the pressure they put Russia under, they ran 349 more metres than their opponents, who could not get their hands on the ball.
They looked more dynamic than the Russians but struggled under the high ball – an area in which they have massive work to do ahead of upcoming games against Ireland and Scotland.
Still, an opening win will inspire the home crowd and hopefully generate more interest for the Japanese public and next generation as the weeks go on.
GALLANT DISPLAY BY RUSSIANS
After a bright start, and holding the lead up as far as the 36th minute, Russia fell to a late try before the break. At that point, they looked devoid of the same energy and spark they showed in the first half hour.
They worked the contact area and slowed the Japan ball, making it difficult for them to launch pacey attacks, but really it was only a matter of time before they would tire out.
Fitness started to hurt just before half-time, especially in that strong Tokyo humidity, and little errors began to creep into their game.
They scrummed well, winning all 13 of their scrums, but when you miss 46 out of your 121 tackles, it’s impossible to win any Test match at this level.
However, you can’t fault the Bears because they gave it absolutely everything. Even when they were out on their feet, they still made tackles, tried to win ball and tried to work scores.
Special mention must go to flanker Tagir Gadzhiev – a former MMA competitor – who was a menace all afternoon for the Russians with and without the ball.
SCOTLAND WON’T BE WORRIED
While many believed that Japan might be in with a shout of challenging Scotland for second place in Pool A, it looks difficult to see that happening based on their unconvincing win over Russia.
Despite scoring four tries, they were too loose with possession, kicked poorly and were outplayed in the air.
The kicking game is an area where Scotland will test them relentlessly in their final pool game in Yokohama on October 13.
The Boks tore them to shreds in that area too and Russia got decent success from it, most obviously for Kirill Golosnitskiy’s early try and a lovely grab from Vasily Artemyev in the second half.
Japan will go back to the drawing board and Friday’s result will only help them going forward. Maybe for Scotland, a tight battle against the home side in the final World Cup pool match is a perfect opportunity to eliminate any errors before the knockout stages.
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