TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s players spoke about being nervous ahead of their Rugby World Cup opener against Russia on Friday and some of their fears were realised in an error-strewn performance as Jamie Joseph’s side again struggled to contend with the high ball.
Japan ran out 30-10 winners against a fatigued opponent, but the tournament hosts did not look truly comfortable right from the kickoff as captain Michael Leitch failed to claim the ball and Russia earned an early lineout.
Flyhalf Yu Tamura had an early kick charged down, before fullback Will Tupou, who struggled all night under the bright lights of Tokyo Stadium, dropped a Russian kick, allowing Kirill Golosnitskiy to score the opening try of the tournament.
Although Japan, technically superior and much fitter than their opponents, clawed back control of the match they were still dogged by difficulties under the high ball.
Tupou in particular struggled and even hat-trick hero Kotaro Matsushima was guilty of stepping into touch catching a Russian clearance.
It was an area South Africa targeted and benefited from in their 41-7 victory over Japan earlier this month and the Brave Blossoms’ next opponents Ireland will be licking their lips at the thought of exploiting this vulnerability.
“We are proud of the team regarding the result but obviously we were put under pressure from good Russian defence and kicking game,” said Joseph.
“Particularly, contestable kicks put us under pressure.”
“With four years of preparation for the World Cup opening game, at times it was obvious pressure had got to some of our players.
“Having said that, I am proud we were able to battle through that and score 30 odd points.”
With an expectant home crowd at fever pitch before kickoff, it was understandable that Japan would be a little jittery.
“We were confident going into the game... but you can’t really train for a game like that, that the players were preparing for such a long time for,” added Joseph.
“The skipper made the first mistake and then all of a sudden we are under pressure.
“This is the sort of thing that will happen at the World Cup and the sort of thing we will have to adapt to and handle. We did that today.”
Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis