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Japan opened its build-up toward the 2003 World Cup with a resounding 59-19 win over Russia at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday.

With qualifying games against South Korea and one other Asian country in June and July, the Japanese were keen to put behind them their recent lackluster tour of New Zealand and put on a display that would give them confidence for their World Cup campaign.

“We wanted to use our pace out wide and I am happy we were able to do that,” coach Shogo Mukai said after the game. “However we still need to brush up on our technique around the gain line. Tonga, which we play next week, and Korea both have different styles so we need to adapt to each game.”

Russian coach James Younger Stoffberg paid tribute to the Japanese team. “Their ball handling was excellent. They were one of the best sides we have played.” He went on to say that the game was a learning experience for the Russian team which was playing its first game outside of Europe.

Prop Johan Hedriks also praised the Japanese team but said, “Our tackling and ball retention was our downfall.”

Having fallen behind in the third minute to a try by Russian No. 8 Viatcheslav Zykov, converted by Werner Pieterse, the Japanese responded with tries from Andy Miller, Masahiko Toyoyama and Hirotoki Onozawa; and three penalties and three conversions from Toru Kirohara to lead 30-7 at the halftime break.

The Russians again drew first blood in the second half with a converted try from flanker Viatcheslav Grachev following a driving maul from 10 meters out. However Japan responded with a superb try from Daisuke Ohata. Miller and Yukio Motoki worked a loop move in midfield before Kurihara came off the left wing to feed Ohata who showed why he is regarded as being the fastest player in world rugby, giving the covering defense no chance from 22 meters out.

Further tries from Luatangi Vatuvei, Wataru Murata and Kurihara, who had 29 points on the day, saw Japan stretch its lead even further as the host team used its speed and experience to stretch the Russian defense.

Team manager Hiroaki Shukuzawa likened the game to a blind date as it was the first time Japan had faced Russia in a test match but said, “The speed of both the backs and forwards, and the combination between the two had improved considerably since last year.”

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