Japan to face Romania in 2019 Rugby World Cup opener

Kyodo

Spain’s surprise 18-10 defeat at the hands of Belgium in the Rugby Europe Championship on Sunday allowed Romania to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, setting up a tournament-opening match against host Japan.

In its ninth consecutive World Cup, Romania will join Japan in Pool A along with Ireland, Scotland and the winner of a two-match playoff in June between Samoa and the runner-up of European qualifying. Japan is 5-1 in its tests against Romania.

“I want to play a solid opening game and seal that victory,” Japan back Harumichi Tatekawa said Monday after returning from South Africa with Super Rugby’s Sunwolves. “We’ve played them. I myself have played them many times, and to some extent we know what kind of rugby they play.”

Sunwolves and Japan back Kotaro Matsushima said knowing the first opponent makes things easier.

“I think we can come up with some tactics that are easy to execute,” he said. “I’m going to start studying the games of our opposing teams right away, as it will be important to get used to seeing them.”

Had Spain beaten Belgium, it would have topped the three-point lead Romania secured going into Sunday’s final. Instead, Romania remained one point ahead of Spain despite a 25-16 loss to Georgia on Sunday.

As the second-place team in European qualification, Spain will take on Portugal for the chance to face Samoa for the vacant spot and a berth in its first World Cup since 1999.

Rugby World Cup 2019 will kick off on Sept. 20, 2019, at Tokyo Stadium.