Japan overpower debutants Chile in World Cup opener

Strong finish: centre Ryoto Nakamura breaks through a tackle to score Japan's fifth try (Lionel BONAVENTURE)
Strong finish: centre Ryoto Nakamura breaks through a tackle to score Japan's fifth try (Lionel BONAVENTURE)

Japan embraced the role of giants in the Toulouse pressure cooker on Sunday, surviving an early strike by inspired Chile to brush aside the World Cup debutants 42-12.

Chile fly-half Rodrigo Fernandez had given the newcomers a dream start and a shock sixth-minute lead.

But Amato Fakatava scored a brace of tries as the Brave Blossoms' pack bludgeoned their inexperienced opponents, scoring five of their six tries.

"Chile came with a really spirited performance, really hearty, tackled like demons, turned our ball over, really put us under pressure," said Japan coach Jamie Joseph. "We had to deal with that."

Chile started each half with an early score but wilted in the 32-degree Celsius heat.

"We were OK for 60 minutes but in the last 20 minutes we missed a little bit the control of the game and that was tough for us. They made us run," said Chile coach Pablo Lemoine.

But Lemoine said that what mattered most was his team had been a part of the global extravaganza.

"Amazing day for Chile rugby, for our rugby history and for the World Cup also with a new country coming in," the former Uruguay prop said. "The first game for Chile rugby is the most important point today.

"The way Japan run the ball we thought it was better to keep it if we could. The strategy worked for about an hour."

Joseph was impressed.

"The support for their team was amazing," said the Japan coach. "They cheered for everything, as the Japanese do."

"I've learned... that the first adventure in the World Cup is when you get the emotion."

- 'Right place, right time' -

Yutaka Nagare, who took over as captain when forward Kazuki Himeno was forced out with a calf injury before kick-off, said Japan's plan had been to dominate possession.

"We just wanted to play our game and occupy the 22-metre zone and retain the ball and maintain pressure on the opposing team," said the scrum-half.

Chile showed no signs of nerves as they struck first in a fearless start to the match.

On six minutes, fullback Inaki Ayarza sliced through Japan's wide defence at halfway before scrum-half Marcelo Torrealba tried to go alone.

He was stripped in the tackle with players either side of him screaming for a pass but Fernandez, scorer of the 2022 world try of the year to get Chile to the World Cup, was following up and dribbled the ball past the defence to touch down.

"I feel really happy," said the scorer. "I was in the right place at the right time."

Japan hit back almost immediately as hulking lock Fakatava stomped in from 10 metres.

Chile remained competitive but faded as a pair of first-half sinbins -- first prop Matias Dittus and then captain Martin Sigren -- cost them dearly.

- 'Under pressure' -

Japan responded with a try each time. Centre Jone Naikabula bludgeoned through three defenders and squirmed over, then just on half-time Fakatava smashed through to score from a lineout maul.

Rikiya Matsuda landed his third conversion of the half and Japan led 21-7 at the break.

Chile emerged from the changing rooms with renewed energy.

After Japan's Dylan Riley was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, Ayarza again opened up the defence before Alfonso Escobar burrowed over.

Again Japan responded instantly as Michael Leitch, in his fourth World Cup, broke two tackles to touch down between the posts.

Japan finished stronger as centre Ryoko Nakamura scooted over and lock Walter Dearns smashed through from a maul.

"They scored a lot at the end of the game," said Sigren. "We struggled under pressure physically in the end."

Matsuda finished with a perfect six from six conversions.