TOKYO. — Rugby’s first World Cup in Asia kicked off in spectacular style yesterday as a South African-born winger Kotaro Matsushima scored the first hat-trick of the tournament to help the hosts Japan down Russia in the opening game 30-10 in Tokyo.
Matsushima could have had four tries, having had one disallowed as he lost the ball going over the line, but provided plenty of fireworks as he gave the local fans a lot to celebrate as the World Cup kicked off in earnest.
And it was another South African in Lappies Labuschagne, the former Cheetahs and Bulls flanker, who scored Japan’s only other try to cap a nervous start, and turn it into a solid win for the host nation.
The hosts were jittery when they started the game and were down early thanks to a poor mistake from an up and under kick, but recovered well and dominated all aspects of the game to win comfortably in the end.
It was quite the shock when Lomano Lemeki dropped the up and under with only four minutes on the clock, providing the perfect opportunity for his opposite number Kiril Golosnitskiy to pounce on the ball, break a half-hearted tackle and run through to score the opening try of the 2019 Rugby World cup.
But Japan may have looked rattled, but they settled down pretty easily afterwards, although their dominance in both possession and territory didn’t always translate into points.
It was in the 11th minute that Matsushima finally got the ball in space, and the former Sharks Academy winger didn’t make any mistake as he ran the ball in at the corner.
While flyhalf Yu Tamura didn’t convert, it felt quite apt that it would only be a matter of time before Japan took the lead.
It was just after the half-hour mark that Matsushima went over with the defence trying to drag him over the sideline, and while it seemed he had planted the ball over the line, replays and a TMO decision decided that he had lost control of the ball in the process and the try wasn’t allowed.
But just four minutes later, and just before the halftime break, Matsushima received a back-hand pass again from Timothy Lafaele to run in untouched in the same corner and put his side 12-7 ahead at the break.
The second half was a lot more scrappy and Russia slowed down play a lot to try and keep up with the Japanese, but a penalty by Tamura extended the lead before Labuschagne ripped the ball clear and stormed down the flank to score a try that would settle the result.
Russia had missed 46 tackles in the process, highlighting the difference between the two contrasting styles of play, and ultimately handing the Japanese the advantage they needed to seal the game.
Yuri Kushnarev brought Russia into double figures with a penalty but the last say for the game would be left to Matsushima, taking up a poor clearance down his wing to cross with relative ease, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in a Rugby World Cup opener.
Japan – tries: Kotaro Matsushima (3), Lappies Labuschagne. Conversions: Yu Tamura (2) Penalties: Tamura (2)
Russia – tries: Kirill Golosnitskiy. Conversion: Yury Kushnarev. Penalty: Kushnarev. – Supersport