Japan storms home against Russia in Cup opener
TOKYO, JAPAN - Japan overcame an early case of nerves to defeat Russia 30-10 in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup on Friday night.
Russia performed admirably enough, but offered little on attack and will have just a few days to recover before meeting fellow Group A opponents Manu Samoa.
The fixture between 10th ranked Japan and 20th ranked Russia at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo looked a mismatch on paper, however it took the best part of an hour for the tournament hosts to exert their will on the game.
The pressure of 127 million expectant home fans showed immediately, with Japan knocking on the opening kickoff.
That put Russia hot on attack, and they turned down an early shot at goal to go for an attacking lineout, showing real intent.
Japan repelled them, but a bomb from fullback and captain Vasily Artemyev was missed completely by Japan fullback Will Tupou, gifting the opening try of the tournament to winger Kirill Golosnitskiy, making it 7-0 inside six minutes
It was a breathless start to the 2019 World Cup, as Japan headed straight onto the attack, probing the Russian defence with little kicks in behind.
They opted for a five metre lineout after a penalty, and had their own try in the 12th minute.
Japan spread it wide to the backs, and a stunning no look offload flick from Samoan-born centre Timothy Lafaele to Tupou set up an easy draw-and-pass for Kotaro Matsushima to score.
Japan continued to put the pressure on with first five Yu Tamura pulling the strings and captain Michael Leitch brilliant as ever around the contact area.
But they often played too fast for their forward pods too form, and couldn’t keep the ball in attacking position long enough to threaten the scoreboard.
Russia were even less convincing with the ball, persisting with a ineffective kicking game from halves Vasily Dorofeev and Yury Kushnarev.
Lafaele set up another tryscoring opportunity with a straightening run and offload as halftime crept closer, but Matsushima was denied a second try after TMO replays showed he didn’t have control of the ball as he grounded it over the line.
Japan stayed in Russia’s red zone, and Matsushima soon had that second five-pointer.
This time it was second five Ryoto Nakamura who drew two defenders before offloading, allowing the winger to run in easily on the stroke of halftime.
Tamura converted this time, giving Japan a five point lead at the break.
Brave Blossoms number eight Kazuki Himeno set the tone early in the second half with a couple of strong carries and half-breaks to bring the hosts inside the 22.
Russia gave away a cynical penalty for not rolling away at the breakdown, letting Tamura have an easy shot at goal to extend Japan’s lead to eight in the 44th minute.
They were soon on the board again, when openside flanker Pieter Labuschagne stripped the ball in a tackle and ran away with it to score, outpacing Russian first five Kushnarev in the process.
Russia fought back though, and earned a penalty which brought play 11 metres from the tryline.
They tried to breach Japan’s defence and got within a metre or so of the line, but messy ball meant they couldn’t do so and Labuschagne won a penalty for holding on at the breakdown to release the pressure
Russia wouldn’t go away though and an attacking bomb was claimed by skipper Artemyev inside Japan’s 22.
They won and converted a penalty right in front of the posts, drawing within 10 points with 20 minutes remaining.
But Tamura restored Japan’s advantage with a shot at goal from 42 metres out after an infringement at the breakdown just three minutes later.
A poor defensive clearance from Artemyev opened the game up for Japan, who countered quickly and sent the ball wide.
Matsushima had too much pace for the tiring Russians, and went in to complete his hat-trick in the 70th minute.
Japan couldn’t put anything more together in the game’s final moments, but ended the game having shown a bit more of what Samoa can expect when they play the tournament hosts on October 5th in Toyota.
Japan 30 (Matsushima 3 tries, Labuschagne; Tamura 2/4 cons, 2/2 pens)
Russia 10 (Golosnitskiy try; Kushnarev 1/1 con, 1/1 pen)