South African-born duo Lappies Labuschagne and Kotaro Matsushima scored four tries between them as Japan battled to a 30-10 victory over Russia in the opening game of the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo on Friday.
The hat-trick from Matsushima and the impact of a superior set of replacements as well as a more solid set piece saw coach Jamie Joseph’s men home despite a disjointed display.
Had the Russians made full use of the opportunities they created, the already tense contest could have been significantly tighter still.
Support-wise, the fans inside Tokyo Stadium created a great atmosphere, which will serve as an example for the tournament going forward. But if Japan’s on-field performance is any indication, the host nation has a long way to go if they are to achieve the goal of reaching the quarter-finals.
Japan were unable to gain outright ascendancy in the possession and territorial stakes and only started to exert sustained pressure on the Russians deep into the second half. The other striking feature of this clash was the high number of handling errors made by both sides.
Russia will be well pleased with how they started the game. After Japan nervously failed to secure the initial kick off, Russia retained possession and worked their way into a dangerous position. They set two lineouts, but twice the hosts managed to snatch the ball back and clear their lines.
However, the second clearance kick was a poor one and when Russia fullback and captain Vasily Artemyev put in an up and under, his Japanese counterpart humiliatingly fumbled the ball at the back and that allowed Kirill Golosnitskiy to pounce. A kind bounce saw the wing run onto the ball and straight over the tryline for the opening score of RWC 2019.
Japan would hit back minutes later when a no-look, behind the back pass created an overlap on the right side of the field and Matsushima was.
The rest of the half was just an error-strewn affair was both teams’ effort were stifled and blighted by basic mistakes. But Japan would have the final say before the break as Matsushima ran in for his second to put his side in front for the first time in the game.
The break brought about a turn in fortunes for the Japanese, who scored eight unanswered points – via a penalty from Yu Tamura and an excellent individual try from Labuschagne – to put some distance between them and Russia.
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) September 20, 2019
Not willing to just lie down, Russia continued to hammer away at Japan’s defensive line and when the pressure took its toll and resulted in a penalty for visitors, flyhalf Kushnarev landed a penalty goal to reduce the deficit.
It was only in the last quarter when Russia lost their patience and concentration that Japan were allowed to pull away and secure an important win. Tamura slotted a second penalty before Matsushima floated over to complete his hat-trick.
And while the team’s performance will leave Joseph with a few concerning issues, he will be more than pleased with Matsushima’s individual display.
Japan – Tries: Kotaro Matsushima (3), Lappies Labuschagne. Conversions: Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda. Penalties: Tamura (2).
Russia – Try: Kirill Golosnitskiy. Conversion: Yury Kushnarev. Penalty: Kushnarev.
Japan – 15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Asaeli Ai Valu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Jiwon Koo, 19 Luke Thompson, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Russia – 15 Vasily Artemyev (c), 14 German Davydov, 13 Vladimir Ostroushko, 12 Dmitry Gerasimov, 11 Kirill Golosnitskiy, 10 Yury Kushnarev, 9 Vasily Dorofeev, 8 Nikita Vavilin, 7 Tagir Gadzhiev, 6 Vitaly Zhivatov, 5 Bogdan Fedotko, 4 Andrey Ostrikov, 3 Kirill Gotovtsev, 2 Stanislav Selskii, 1 Valery Morozov.
Subs: 16 Evgeny Matveev, 17 Andrei Polivalov, 18 Azamat Bitiev, 19 Andrey Garbuzov, 20 Anton Sychev, 21 Dmitry Perov, 22 Ramil Gaisin, 23 Vladislav Sozonov.