AAP Rugby

Jittery Japan open RWC with scrappy win

By AAP Newswire

Winger Kotaro Matsushima has scored a hat-trick as Japan overcame a severe case of opening-night nerves to give the host nation a winning start to the Rugby World Cup with a 30-10 victory over a spirited Russia side.

After an opening ceremony featuring a dazzling laser light show and appearances by Japan's Crown Prince Akishino and All Blacks great Richie McCaw, there were quickly a few fireworks on the pitch.

The Russians, laid on as sacrificial lambs for the opening party, stunned the noisy crowd of 48,745 into silence on Friday when they pounced on a Japanese error and scored the tournament's first try through winger Kirill Golosnitskiy in the fourth minute.

Man of the Match Matsushima replied with Japan's first try seven minutes later but it was not until he went over for his second just before the break that the error-prone home side took the lead at 12-7.

Flanker Pieter Labuschagne added another try after the break and 12 minutes from time Matsushima got his third to secure the bonus point that might be key to Japan's hopes of advancing from Pool A, which also includes Ireland, Scotland and Samoa.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph praised Russia's defence and kicking game.

"With four years of preparation for the World Cup opening game, at times it was obvious pressure had got to some of our players," he said.

"Having said that, I am proud we were able to battle through that and score 30 odd points."

Russia, who only qualified when Romania and Spain were disqualified for using ineligible players, impressed with hard tackling and a willingness to take the game to their opponents.

Coach Lyn Jones said the level of rugby his side were expected to maintain was simply beyond their experience.

"We had a 20 per cent chance to win ... it is a new sport for us and I am very very proud of how our players got stuck in and gave their all for the nation," the Welshman told reporters.

"It is a sombre changing room, they thought they had a chance to win but it was not to be. They gave it their best shot tonight."

Japan's next game is against the No.1 ranked Irish in Fukuroi City on September 28, a match the hosts will be desperate to win if they wish to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time.

The Russians take on Samoa in Kumagaya on September 24.