TOKYO (Reuters) - Kotaro Matsushima became the first Japan player to score a hat-trick of tries at a World Cup on Friday, earning praise from his own coach and the opposing manager after the “Brave Blossoms” beat Russia in the tournament’s opening match.
Matsushima, born in South Africa to a Zimbabwean father and a Japanese mother, was a bright spark for the World Cup hosts who wound up comfortable 30-10 winners despite looking shaky through large spells of the game.
While he can also play as a fullback, his attacking flair has blossomed as a winger and the team’s reliance on their fleet-footed runner was evident on Friday.
All three of Matsushima’s tries - he had a fourth ruled out after a TMO decision - were scored after the pacey winger received offloads from his team mates before leaving opponents for dead out wide.
“We gave him (Matsushima) room and he can finish. It was a good game for him tonight. When you play him, you close his space down and put fast players up against him...sounds quite simple,” Russia’s coach Lyn Jones said.
Japan coach Jamie Joseph likened his two wingers, Matsushima and Lomano Lemeki, to high-powered sports cars.
“If we can create opps (opportunities) then both of our wingers, they can finish. They will get accolades for the tries because that is what the Ferraris get on the outside,” the former All Black said.
Japan will need the 26-year-old Matsuhima at his flying best when they face Ireland in Fukuroi City on Sept 28.
“Everybody was more nervous than we expected. But now everyone knows the World Cup atmosphere, so the nerves should be gone by next week’s match,” Matsushima said.
Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis