Matsushima hat-trick gives Rugby World Cup hosts Japan perfect start to tournament

The Cherry blossoms hold off resolute Russia in first-half before pulling away with four tries

Japan's Kotaro Matsushima runs in to score one of his three tries against Russia in the Rugby World Cup opener in Tokoyo. AP Photo
Japan's Kotaro Matsushima runs in to score one of his three tries against Russia in the Rugby World Cup opener in Tokoyo. AP Photo

Kotoro Matsushima gave host nation Japan a perfect start to their Rugby World Cup campaign with a hat-trick of tries against Russia.

Japan, the first hosts of a tournament outside of rugby's heartlands, had to fend off a resolute challenge by Russia in the first half with the score 12-7.

But the European side's exertions proved costly as the Cherry Blossoms overcame their jittery start to motor away in the second to a raucous crowd inside the Tokyo Stadium.

The Russians stunned the noisy crowd of 48,745 into silence when they pounced on an error by Yu Tamura and scored the tournament's first try through winger Kirill Golosnitskiy with barely five minutes on the clock.

Winger Matsushima replied with a try seven minutes later after Tamura reprieved himself by supplying the pass. Ryoto Nakamura then found Matsushima out wide to give the home side the lead just before half-time.

Flanker Pieter Labuschagne added another try after the break and 12 minutes from time Matsushima completed his hat-trick - a brilliant solo effort - and secured a bonus point that might be key to Japan's hopes of advancing from Pool A.

"Straight from the kick off they put us under extreme pressure with their gameplan, they really tested us today," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.

"I think with the nerves out of the way, we can start looking forward to [their next game against] Ireland."

Earlier the World Cup was declared open by Crown Prince Akishino as Asian embraces its chance to stage the tournament for the first time.

"I hope the tournament will strengthen the bonds between participating countries and help grow the game around the world, the Prince said. "I hereby declare the tournament open."

A military brass band, traditional dancers, live DJs, martial artists and drummers all took to the stage, as high-definition graphics projected onto the stage.

They ran through the myriad of venues, virtual mapping of each city's characteristics shown up to much applause.

The story of the birth and growth of rugby was then superimposed onto an iconic image of a snow-capped Mount Fuji.

The 20 countries taking part were announced, the biggest roars saved for the host nation, closely followed by defending champions New Zealand and South Africa.

Children representing the 20 competing teams belted out the World Rugby anthem World in Union before former All Black skipper Richie McCaw brought in the glittering Webb Ellis Cup that New Zealand hope to win for an unprecedented third straight edition.

Updated: September 20, 2019 05:10 PM


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