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Hosts Japan overcome Russia in 2019 Rugby World Cup opener

Japan 30 - 10 Russia

Japan's Pieter Labuschagne evades the tackle of Russia's Yuri Kushnarev during the Pool A match between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: Ashley Western/PA Wire
Japan's Pieter Labuschagne evades the tackle of Russia's Yuri Kushnarev during the Pool A match between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan. Credit: Ashley Western/PA Wire
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

As early as lunchtime on Friday, Japanese rugby fans were streaming through Tobitakyu Station in anticipation of their team's World Cup opener with Russia, the first ever tournament game to be played on Asian soil.

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They took shelter from the midday sun, taking pictures in front of the stadium and videoing the singing from small pockets of foreign fans who themselves had made an early journey to the stadium.

One local stood forlornly at the barrier of the train station with a handmade sign in both Japanese and English.

"HELP. I have no ticket for the game, please sell."

Whether a ticket was forthcoming or not, come several hours later the spot where he had perched was occupied by an American TV crew filming everything that moved and Tokyo Stadium was standing room only. This was a game the country has looked forward to for the ten years since they were confirmed as hosts. The mood was unmistakable anticipation.

The opening ceremony was a typically spectacular affair, a flyover from the Blue Impulse preceding a rendering of Mount Fuji with great moments of past World Cup projected upon it. The last of them, the Brave Blossoms beating South Africa four years ago, offered a reminder that the hosts are not here to simply welcome the rugby world to their shores. Skipper Michael Leitch has already spoken of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy come November and if the near 46,000 packed last night found that hard to believe, you'd not have sensed it as the teams emerged.

When the lights were brought back up in the now full arena, there were blocks so filled with Japanese replica shirts that it looked as if there was nothing but red and white in the stands.

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Against a side beaten by both Connacht and Jersey in recent weeks, there wasn't meant to be too much to fear from the 80 minutes ahead, a comfortable win thanks to a compliant fixture list meant to set their side up well for the challenges posed by Ireland and Scotland later in the pool.

Then, all of a sudden,  it felt like the hosts were late to the party they'd spent a decade planning.

Mistakes were plentiful and a side who had played with such verve and confidence in the build-up to this tournament were suddenly crippled with nerves.

KOBE, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03: Ireland fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03: Ireland fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03: A Ireland fan takes a photo inside the stadium prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Ireland supporters cheer prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Ireland supporter poses prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
A Russia and an Ireland supporter pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Ireland supporters cheer prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Ireland supporters cheers prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Rugby fans pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Ireland supporters cheers prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03: An Ireland fan celebrates during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
KOBE, JAPAN - OCTOBER 03: Fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 03, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Ireland supporters pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Ireland supporters pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Rugby fans pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Ireland supporters pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
Ireland supporters pose prior to the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Russia at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in Kobe on October 3, 2019. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Irish (L) and Japanese (R) rugby fan have a friendly tussle for the ball arriving for the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on September 28, 2019. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images
Fans during the 2019 Rugby World Cup match at the Shizoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizouka Prefecture, Japan. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 28, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at URL: bit.ly/2knOId6
Irish fans could have a nervous wait on Sunday if their team don't pick up maximum points against Samoa.
FUKUROI, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Japanese fans are seen prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
FUKUROI, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 28: A Japanese supporters is seen prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
FUKUROI, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Ireland supporters enjoy the atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
FUKUROI, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Ireland supporters enjoy the atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28, 2019 in Fukuroi, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Irish fans show their su during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Ireland fans ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Fans gathering for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Ashley Western/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Fans gathering for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Ashley Western/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Fans gathering for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Ashley Western/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Ireland fans in the stands during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Fans gathering for the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Ireland and Scotland at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Ashley Western/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Ireland fans ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
Ireland fans ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match at the International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 22, 2019. See PA story RUGBYU Ireland. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Strictly no commercial use or association. Still image use only. Use implies acceptance of RWC 2019 T&Cs (in particular Section 5 of RWC 2019 T&Cs) at: https://bit.ly/2knOId6
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Irish fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Two Ireland fans enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Irish fans show their su during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Irish fans show their su during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Irish fans show their support during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Shea Summers, Declan Summers and Eoin Holland from Carlow ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland An Ireland fan ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Ireland fans ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Fans ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Ireland fans ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Ireland fans ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland An Ireland and England fan ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Ireland fans ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Craig Mercer
2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A, International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan 22/9/2019 Ireland vs Scotland Ireland fans Chris Claffey and Ryan Wright from Westmeath ahead of the game Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
CHOFU, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 20: Fans begin to take their seats ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium on September 20, 2019 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
CHOFU, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 20: Fans pose for a photo ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium on September 20, 2019 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
A Japan fan cheers on her team before the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on September 20, 2019. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
A young Japan fan cheers on the team before the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Russia at the Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo on September 20, 2019. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

The eyes of a watching world had evidently messed with the side's mojo. Latent apprehension was brought to the surface thanks to a muffed reception of the kick-off - the mistake coming from Leitch of all people - and for the next half hour or so, Japan string little together.

They were forced into touch from the misplayed opening, giving Lyn Jones's side an eye of their line with barely a minute on the clock.

The cheer when the Russian line-out was subsequently overthrown was loud, the gasp when Yu Tamara was charged down possibly even louder. The relief when Vasily Dorofeev just failed to reach the bouncing ball for a try felt palpable.

It wouldn't last. Fullback William Tupou, whose self-assurance seemed more afflicted than most, made another error under a high ball and this time was punished, Kirill Golosnitskiy pouncing to grab the first try of the 2019 World Cup.

Jamie Joseph, who had left a few more experienced players on the bench and star number eight Amanaki Mafi out of the side to ensure he was fully fit for Ireland next up, won't have seen much of his gameplan in those heart-stopping early minutes. Attack coach Tony Brown, around whose innovative strike plays Japan's best days have based, no doubt wondered how they could make so many handling errors.

Even a moment of magic - Timothy Lafaele's offload to create a score for Kotaro Matsushima - didn't settle the nerves. Tamara's shanked conversion keeping Russia ahead as the errors continued apace. The brilliant try aside, the real spectacle was still unfolding in the stands.

The underdogs were better than advertised but missed tackle after tackle, Japan's aversion to possession more than anything else what kept them in it.

The game would turn only in the minutes after half-time. Seconds before the break, Japan finally had the lead, Matsushima again over from an offload even if Russia protested that Ryoto Nakamura's one-handed pass had floated forward.  A quick penalty was followed by another try, this time following a rampaging run flanker Pieter Labuschagne.

Finally, the locals could breathe that bit easier, even indulge in the dreaded Mexican wave.

Always a sign that tension has been sapped from a contest, there was certainly no doubt about the result when Matsushima completed his hat-trick with ten minutes to go to bring Japan a bonus-point.

Both sides underwent a lap of honour at the end, Japan heartily cheered from the field despite the shaky showing. It probably says much about the level of expectation surrounding them that, despite having won only once in this competition prior to 2015, that a five point haul felt somewhat underpar.

The outcome was expected but Joseph will have to hope that means the understandable opening night nerves have been flushed from the system. The performance will need to be much better if Japan are to make any impact on the field at their own World Cup. The fans, though, have already made theirs off it.

JAPAN: W Tupou; K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Kakamura, L Lemeki; Y Tamura, Y Nagare; K Inagaki, S Horie, A Ai Valu; W can der Walt, J Moore; M Leitch (c), P Labuschagne, K Himeno

REPLACEMENTS: I Nakajima (for Inagaki, 54), J Koo (for Valu, 54) F Tanaka (for Nagare, 60), A Sakate (for Horie, 60), L Thompson ( for van der Walt, 60), R Matsuda (for Tamara, 60), H Tui (for Leitch, 71)

RUSSIA: V Artemyev (c); G Davydov, D Gerasimov, K Golosnitskiy; Y Kushnarev, V Dorofeev; V Morozov, S Selskii, K Gotovtsev; A Ostrikov, B Fedotko, V Zhivatov, T Gadzhiev, N Vavilin

REPLACEMENTS: A Garbuzov (for Fedotko, 60), A Sychev, (for Zhivatov, 65), E Matveev (for Selskii, 65), R Gaisin (for Kushnarev, 67), V Sozonob (for Gerasimov, 67), A Bitiev (for Gotovtsev, 67), D Perov (for Forofeev, 73)

REFEREE: Nigel Owens (WAL)

MAN OF THE MATCH: K Matsushima (Japan)

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