Japan warm-up for Ireland with stuttering win over Russia in World Cup opener

Wing Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick as the hosts started with a bonus-point victory.

Japan 30

Russia 10

THE TRAIN JOURNEY to Tokyo Stadium set the tone for what was to be an exasperating evening for Japan. 

With rush hour meaning commuters squashing in like sardines and clearly no space left in our carriage, one man launched himself off the platform and into the mass of bodies with reckless abandon, much to the understandable annoyance of those he careered into.

As the train took off, another man voiced his displeasure in no uncertain terms and by the time the train stopped at the next station, the pair of them were bursting onto the platform trading blows – this in a country where the general levels of politeness are jaw-dropping.

pieter-labuschagne-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-third-try-with-teammates Japan celebrate one of their four tries against Russia. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Over at Tokyo Stadium, the World Cup kicked off with the hosts Japan up against Russia, genuine minnows who are here due to the disqualification of three other nations in the Rugby Europe Championship for fielding ineligible players. This was expected to be a hammering.

But, after an impressive opening ceremony that saw Richie McCaw deliver the World Cup trophy, a clearly nervous Japan stuttered to a bonus-point victory against the Russians, who scrapped for everything and had some memorable moments.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are the next opposition for Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms, but they have huge improvements to make if they are to trouble the number-one ranked team in the world in Shizuoka on 28 September.

Right wing Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick for Japan and they had some sensational moments of skill in attack, but there was plenty of evidence of weakness for Schmidt to pore over, nowhere more obviously than in their failure to deal with Russia’s kicking.

Fullback Will Tupou had a tough evening under the high ball – giving up the opening try to Russia – and Japan’s own kicking game yielded little success. Their retention of the ball was sloppy too, as they turned the ball over 16 times. 

All of that said, the home crowd of 45,745 people was brilliant. The Mexican Wave was going before kick-off, there was widespread applause for scrums, and Tokyo Stadium absolutely rocked whenever Japan got flowing in attack.  

kirill-golosnitskiy-celebrates-scoring-their-first-try-with-vasily-artemyev Russia scored early on through wing Kirill Golosnitskiy. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

For World Rugby, a win for Japan is what really matters, allowing the country to get behind them as they now look for a shock win against Schmidt’s Ireland next weekend.

Japan’s start to the game was horrific, as they failed to gather the kick-off and found themselves instantly defending their tryline before Tamura had an attempted clearance blocked down and scrum-half Vasily Dorofeev nearly scored as the ball agonisingly rolled dead.

The Russians had the opening score as early as the fifth minute, however, as former Blackrock and UCD fullback Vasily Artemyev hung up a garryowen that opposite number Will Tupou dropped cold, allowing wing Kirill Golosnitskiy to gather and dot down.

Japan did muster a swift response as they swept into the Russia 22 and outside centre Timothy Lafaele produced a sublime one-hand offload behind his back that freed Tupou to deliver the scoring pass to right wing Matsushima.

With Tamura missing the conversion, Japan still trailed and they were sloppy and impatient as they searched for the lead, which only arrived a minute before the break – Matsushima again finishing.

Having just had an effort ruled out by the TMO, the right wing benefited from another offload, this time by Japan inside centre Ryoto Nakamura, to cross. The offload looked slightly forward but referee Nigel Owens and his team were happy.

Before that score, the match officials had missed what looked like Japan lock James Moore’s elbow making contact with the chin of Dorofeev, who had to depart for a HIA.

japan-fans-ahead-of-the-game A Japan fan at Tokyo Stadium. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

Leading 12-7, Japan seemed likely to stretch the scoreline in the second half as the Russians – having missed around 30 tackles in the opening 40 minutes – presumably tired.

After Tamura had tapped over a penalty, flanker Pieter Labuschagne stripped the ball from Russia lock Andrey Ostrikov and strode over from 35 metres out for their third try and a 20-7 advantage.

But Russia refused to fold just yet, working hard for a penalty that allowed 34-year-old out-half to draw them back to within 10 points. 

Japan briefly abandoned any notion of racking up the tries as the game entered the final quarter, with Tamura hammering over a long-range penalty to give them a little more breathing room.

They then managed to grab a fourth try with 10 minutes remaining, as Matsushima broke through for his hat-trick after a wild passage of play, replacement out-half Rikiya Matsuda converting for the final 30-10 scoreline.

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Japan scorers:

Tries: Kotaro Matsushima [3], Pieter Labuschagne

Conversions: Yu Tamura [1 from 3], Rikiya Matsuda [1 from 1]

PenaltiesYu Tamura [2 from 2]

Russia scorers:

TriesKirill Golosnitskiy

ConversionsYury Kushnarev [1 from 1]

Penalties: Yury Kushnarev [1 from 1]

JAPAN: William Tupou (Ryohei Yamanaka ’71; Kataro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lemeki; Yu Tamura (Rikiya Matsuda ’67), Yutaka Nagare (Fumiaki Tanaka ’61); Keita Inagaki (Isileli Nakajima ’55), Shota Horie (Atsushi Sakate ’55), Asaeli Ai Valu (Jiwon Koo ’55); Wimpie van der Walt (Luke Thompson ’61), James Moore; Michael Leitch (captain) (Hendrik Tui ’71); Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno. 

RUSSIA: Vasily Artemyev (captain); German Davydov, Vladimir Ostroushko, Dmitry Gerasimov (Vladislav Sozonov ’68), Kirill Golosnitskiy; Yury Kushnarev (Ramil Gaisin ’65), Vasily Dorofeev (HIA – Dmitry Perov ’33 to ’40); Valery Morozov (Andrei Polivalov ’65), Stanislav Selskii (Evgeny Matveev ’65), Kirill Gotovtsev (Azamat Bitiev ’68); Andrey Ostrikov, Bogdan Fedotko  (Andrey Garbuzov ’61); Vitaly Zhivatov (Anton Sychev ’65), Tagir Gadzhiev, Nikita Vavilin.

Referee: Nigel Owens [Wales].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Tokyo Stadium

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