Matsushima treble leads Japan to win over Russia in opener - GulfToday

Matsushima treble leads Japan to win over Russia in opener

Matsushima treble leads Japan  to win over Russia in opener

Japan’s wing Kotaro Matsushima (centre right) jumps for the ball during their Rugby World Cup Pool A match against Russia at the Tokyo Stadium on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Kotaro Matsushima scored a sizzling hat-trick as hosts Japan recovered from a torrid start to thrash Russia 30-10 in their Rugby World Cup curtain raiser on Friday.

Japan’s prolific winger became the first player to score three tries in a World Cup opening game after a brilliant solo effort with just over 10 minutes left in Tokyo.

The Brave Blossoms looked to have caught stage fright in the Pool A clash and found themselves behind after just five minutes before Matsushima came to the rescue by scoring three of Japan’s four tries. Japan coach Jamie Joseph described Matsushima as a “Ferrari”, while the match-winner himself was lost for words.

“My first hat-trick for Japan -- it’s hard to explain how happy I feel,” he said.

“I probably should have scored a couple more but hopefully I can keep producing stuff like that -- I want to stay greedy.”

Japan strode out to booming taiko drums greeted by a deafening roar from a packed crowd of 45,000 but it was Russia’s “Bears” who began the sharper.

Yu Tamura’s charged-down kick had almost led to a score before William Tupou spilled a high catch, allowing Kirill Golosnitskiy the simplest of tries.

Tupou made amends in the 11th minute with a deft reverse pass for Matsushima to dive into the corner.

Russia came back again when Nikita Vavilin broke clear, only for Vladimir Ostroushko to wastefully kick the ball away.

A chip-through from Yury Kushnarev triggered further panic as Golosnitskiy again threatened.

But with the Russians wilting as half-time approached, Japan caught their opponents cold.

Sucking the Russian defenders in on the left, Japan switched back the other way and Ryoto Nakamura found Matsushima out wide to give the home side the lead.

Leading 12-7 at the half, Tamura extended Japan’s advantage with an early penalty before Pieter Labuschagne ripped the ball from his opposite number and raced clear to score Japan’s third try.

A Kushnarev penalty closed the deficit to 20-10 on the hour-mark but Tamura kicked a three-pointer before Matsushima completed a superb hat-trick with a mazy run that left a trail of Russian defenders for dead.

Japan were once destroyed 145-17 by New Zealand at the World Cup but they are a different proposition these days and have become a regular fixture among Rugby’s top 10-ranked teams since winning three games at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones.

The home side, who produced one of sport’s great upsets with a jaw-dropping 34-32 defeat of South Africa in their opening game four years ago, never looked like relinquishing control after Matsushima settled their nerves.

Japan, who earned a bonus point for scoring four tries, face Ireland -- the world’s top-ranked side -- in Shizuoka next weekend while the Bears try to lick their wounds before taking on Samoa after a quick, four-day turnaround.

Joseph admitted that the occasion had got to his players early on.

“It’s obvious the pressure got to some of our players and we made mistakes,” said the former All Black.

“But we sucked it up and got out of trouble. I’m pretty proud of the way we battled through it.”

Russia coach Lyn Jones paid tribute to Japan’s high-intensity game after a brave effort by his side.

“There was a little bit of magic for us but it wasn’t for long enough,” said the Welshman.

“But Tier One Rugby is not a level above our game -- it’s a different sport for our players.”

Meanwhile, rugby fever swept through Japan as fans flocked to Tokyo Stadium for the start of the 2019 World Cup, ushering in the tournament to Asia for the first time with a lavish opening ceremony inspired by Japanese-style festivals and Kabuki dance.

Japanese “taiko” drums set the beat as the names of the 20 participating countries were projected onto a likeness of Mt. Fuji. Huge cheers went up for defending champions New Zealand but the biggest, of course, were reserved for hosts Japan.

A choir of children sang the “World in Union” theme before former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw raised the Webb Ellis trophy to rousing cheers from the roughly 50,000 capacity crowd.

“The stage is set ... to make this the best World Cup ever,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.

Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino declared the Sept.20-Nov.2 tournament officially open.

Agencies