Rugby

Brave Blossoms admit nervousness and excitement before RWC opener against Russia

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Japan national team players on Thursday confessed to feeling nervous ahead of Friday’s opening game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but are confident the excitement of the occasion will sweep away the butterflies when the host nation faces Russia at Tokyo Stadium.

“I’m sure the atmosphere is going to be great and the crowd will be huge,” said scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare, after the Brave Blossoms had completed a morning training session in front of hundreds of reporters at the match venue.

“There are lots of reporters here today,” he said. “There is so much attention on this game. I’m sure I will be nervous, but it’s a dream to play in this game and I want to be confident and enjoy it.”

Tournament organizers were busy putting the finishing touches to preparations around the stadium on Thursday, as Japan gets ready to host the first Rugby World Cup ever to be held in Asia.

The Japan team, meanwhile, was also running through the final details before facing rank outsider Russia, with the Brave Blossoms looking to kickstart their bid to reach the quarterfinals for the first time with a win over the world’s 20th-ranked team.

“I don’t think that we ever attack in the same way twice,” said Japan assistant coach Tony Brown. “We always have new attacking options for each opposition, and Russia is no different and Ireland will be no different next week.

“The players played here last year against the All Blacks, so I don’t think we’ve got any problem with them being too nervous against Russia. It’s not an issue for us. We’re really looking forward to the game. It’s going to be an exciting opportunity for our players to play in a World Cup.”

Japan’s previous game was a 41-7 defeat to South Africa in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on Sept. 6, with head coach Jamie Joseph afterward lamenting his players’ ability to cope with the Springboks’ frequent high kicks.

Brown expects Russia to use the same tactic on Friday, but the New Zealander believes Japan’s players are good enough to deal with it.

“Russia are good at kicking the ball under pressure,” said Brown. “Our ability to turn those kicks into counterattack opportunities is going to be really important for us. Being good in the air under the high ball and then being able to move the ball quickly is going to be very important for us tomorrow.

“The kicking game is going to be really important. It was against South Africa and we didn’t handle those situations as well as we should have, but South Africa are a good team. They pressure you everywhere. Receiving the Russian kicking game, we’re pretty confident we’ve got plans in place that are going to be good enough.”

Japan’s second game of the tournament will be against Ireland in Shizuoka on Sept. 28, before the Brave Blossoms take on Samoa in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, on Oct. 5 and round off the pool stage against Scotland in Yokohama on Oct. 13.

Several of the Japan squad have previous World Cup experience, but hooker Shota Horie urged his teammates not to let the comfort of being the home team this time around blunt their instincts.

“It’s an environment that we’re used to, so with things like food, I feel comfortable,” said Horie, who will be appearing in his third Rugby World Cup. “I feel comfortable when I have spare time.

“Maybe it’s too convenient, because if we go somewhere in a different country, it’s not convenient like it is in Japan so we tend to stick together. In Japan, we don’t really do things as a group and we tend to just go out on our own. Maybe we should stick together like we do when we’re overseas.”

Japan beat rival bids from Italy and South Africa to be named 2019 Rugby World Cup host in July 2009, meaning more than 10 years will have passed by the time Friday’s game at Tokyo Stadium kicks off.

Now that the waiting is almost over, Nagare is eager to get started.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Ever since it was decided that Japan would host this tournament, I’ve been working hard so that I could play in it.

“I’m really excited and I can’t wait for the game to start.”

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