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Hosts get off to winning start as RWC 2019 gets underway

Hosts get off to winning start as RWC 2019 gets underway

The opening ceremony worked like clockwork but when the rugby began suddenly everything went off-script.

A knock-on from kick-off, the first try of the Rugby World Cup from Russia’s Kirill Golosnitsky five minutes later and a host nation who were a bundle of nerves.

Thankfully, Japan did not take long to find their feet, Timothy Lafaele producing a brilliant offload to put Kotaro Matsushima in for the first of three tries in a 30-10 victory at Tokyo Stadium to give this ninth World Cup the start it needed.

It was a huge step for World Rugby to take the tournament to Japan, but the fans turned out in their droves, virtually all clad in red and white.

And despite that nervy start, and in truth, first half, the Brave Blossoms got the result that was both expected and needed. If Lafaele’s offload will be the abiding image of this opener, Lappies Labuschagne’s rip and run from halfway is a close second.

Japan will have to be better in matches against Guinness Six Nations opponents Ireland and Scotland if they are to make history in reaching the knock-out stages for the first time, but even against an opponent they were expected to beat comfortably, the key here was to win.

Prior to the rugby, the build-up was thrilling. It is always challenging to make an opening ceremony captivating when everyone is waiting for the action to begin.

Yet this one gave us a glimpse into the history of the sport in Japan, dating all the way back to 1866 when William Webb Ellis, after whom the trophy everyone is vying to win is named, was still alive and well.

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In a land of many gods, 15 were represented in honour of what was to follow, while 40 taiko drummers brought the crowd to their feet and the excitement reached fever pitch.

Inevitably footage of Japan’s most famous victory of them all, four years ago in Brighton against the Springboks, featured as well as the incomparable chorus of World in Union, sung by a choir of children representing every competing nation.

Rugby faces a challenge imposing itself in the Land of the Rising Sun where preparations are already in full swing for next year’s Olympics.

And yet the attendance of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Akishino, as well as prime minister Shinzo Abe, was an indication of the importance of this event.

Had a Japanese defeat followed, it would have felt like the mother of all anti-climaxes. Instead, Golosnitsky’s try was merely a blip. Lafaele produced a moment of magic, Matsushima a famous hat-trick – the first in a World Cup opener – and Japan never looked back.

The hosts are up and running and after a long build-up, the rugby takes centre stage.

Tomorrow, it goes up a gear as France and Argentina battle in a crucial Pool C clash at 8.15am GMT, while Sunday sees four Guinness Six Nations sides in action.

Italy get the day going against Namibia (6.15am GMT), before Ireland and Scotland meet in a hotly-anticipated clash in Yokohama and England complete the weekend against Tonga.