Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Rugby World Cup 2019: Japan admit to nerves before 'dream' opening match

The pressure is on for Japan as hosts even though they are heavy favourites for the clash against lowly ranked Russia

Japan team captain Michael Leitch and other teammates attend a training session at Tokyo Stadium as they prepare for the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2019 against Russia on Friday. Reuters
Japan team captain Michael Leitch and other teammates attend a training session at Tokyo Stadium as they prepare for the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2019 against Russia on Friday. Reuters

Japan scrum-half Yutaka Nagare admits the Brave Blossoms are feeling butterflies in their stomachs as nerves begin to kick ahead of the opening match of the Rugby World Cup 2019.

The hosts take on Russia in Pool A to kick off the six-week long tournament, the first time rugby's showpiece event has been held in Asia.

The excitement was palpable as the team went through their final paces at the Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Thursday, as four years of planning for Jamie Joseph’s side reaches its final stage.

Friday’s match is expected to draw a record domestic television audience for a Rugby World Cup fixture with Japanese fans looking to get behind their team that caused one of the biggest upsets in tournament history four years ago with a nail-biting win over two-time champions South Africa.

The pressure is on for Japan as hosts even though they are heavy favourites for the clash against lowly ranked Russia.

“So many media have come today - it's going to be a match that's going to get alot of attention,” said Nagare, selected at scrum-half over Fumiaki Tanaka, a hero of Japan’s win over South Africa in England four years ago.

"I'll be nervous but this is a dream match so I hope to enjoy and play with confidence."

With Japan keen to play a high-tempo match to take the game to Russia, who will prefer to battle it out in the forwards, Nagare’s role as tone-setter for the Brave Blossoms will be crucial.

"First of all, I feel that I'm shouldering a lot of the responsibility. We're playing in the opening match which is a match that comes with a lot of pressure," he said.

"There's the expectations of the team and also that of the Japanese people so I want to play well.

"On the actual day, I think I'll be nervous but I hope to communicate as best I can with the other players ... so that we can bond well and so that I can control the match."

Saturday's schedule is more packed with three matches slated. Australia take on Fiji in Pool D in the early kick off before a heavyweight clash between back-to-back champions New Zealand and southern hemisphere rivals South Africa that will in all probability decide who tops Pool B.

Sandwiched in between is France v Argentina.

With a tough draw and consistently patchy form, three-time runners-up France face the very real prospect of an early exit in a potentially must-win game against the Pumas.

In the only pool containing three teams that have made the semi-finals, the loser of the blockbuster will more than likely have to beat highly-rated England to drag themselves back into contention for the knockout stages.

Predictions that such a fate awaits a French team that have been frustratingly inconsistent, even by their usual mercurial standards, is providing fuel for Jacques Brunel's young side.

"Nobody believes in us, that's what I think and we're going to try to prove them wrong," Damian Penaud, one of three backs aged 22 or under in the side.

"Personally I don't care about what is said in France but yeah, it motivates me. We want to show everybody that we are here for a reason. It is important to start this competition on the right foot and go as far as we can."

Mario Ledesma's men arrived in Tokyo a lowly 11th in world rankings following nine consecutive Test defeats, albeit mostly against the three giants of the Rugby Championship, and they did beat Australia and South Africa just before that run.

They have demonstrated an edge over France, however, having won 10 of their 16 meetings since the turn of the century.

Updated: September 19, 2019 02:27 PM

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