New Zealand were far from perfect in their Rugby World Cup opener, but a six-minute spell of breathtaking brilliance showed why the two-time defending champions remain the team to beat.

While the All Blacks are understandably many people's favourites to prevail in Japan, it is fair to say their status as rugby's dominant nation has come under more questioning than usual in recent months.

South Africa won this year's Rugby Championship, in which Steve Hansen's men suffered a stunning 47-26 defeat to Australia - albeit one they avenged the following week with a 36-0 thumping of the Wallabies to retain the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks have also been displaced by Ireland at the top of World Rugby's rankings and the likes of Wales and England have been tipped to mount strong challenges for glory over the coming weeks.

For 20 minutes on Saturday, any doubts over New Zealand's strength were heightened as South Africa started superbly in a blockbuster Pool B opener in Yokohama that could well serve as a dress rehearsal for the final at the same venue on November 2.

Throughout the first quarter, the Springboks dominated territorially, their ferocious line-speed causing no end of problems.

However, one misplaced pass from Faf de Klerk - with South Africa leading 3-0 - triggered a sudden shift in momentum as the All Blacks demonstrated a ruthless streak no other team can match.

The Boks initially got off lightly when De Klerk's wild pass from a ruck was pounced upon by Richie Mo'unga, who kicked ahead before being halted just short of the line. Makazole Mapimpi was penalised for not releasing the number 10, but the wing avoided a yellow card and the All Blacks merely picked up three points to level the score when a try had appeared highly likely.

New Zealand had found their mojo, though, and in a matter of minutes they took complete control with two stunning tries in quick succession.

Hansen's decision to start Beauden Barrett - widely viewed as the world's finest fly-half - at full-back in order to accommodate Mo'unga has prompted much debate, but the presence of two playmakers was certainly influential as the All Blacks hit top gear.

Mo'unga's cross-field kick to Sevu Reece started the move that led to the first try. Reece promptly skinned the out-of-position Mapimpi before working the ball through Aaron Smith to a galloping Ardie Savea. From the next phase, Barrett surged through a gap from second receiver and laid on a simple finish for George Bridge.

Barrett was also heavily involved in the passage of play that led up to the All Blacks' second score, which was finished by namesake Scott Barrett after Anton Lienert-Brown had dazzlingly weaved past five defenders.

Having been 3-0 down and on the rack, New Zealand were suddenly 14 points to the good and their opponents understandably appeared somewhat stunned for the remainder of the half.

To their credit, the Springboks did battle back gamely after the interval, but they had been left with too much to do.

It has been 12 years since the All Blacks last lost a World Cup fixture. Their magical six-minute blitz on Saturday suggests it will take something special to deny them another title.

Kieran Read was pleased with the clinical edge New Zealand showed as they saw off South Africa 23-13 in their opening game at the Rugby World Cup.

The Springboks started the highly anticipated Pool B clash in Yokohama - which will also host the final - positively but only scored three points through Handre Pollard during their period of dominance.

When Richie Mo'unga set upon a loose pass from Faf de Klerk and was illegally challenged by Makazole Mapimpi, the fly-half restored parity and kick-started a six-minute spell in which the reigning champions racked up 17 points.

George Bridge scored his eighth try in six Tests before a handling error from Pollard preceded Scott Barrett running in the All Blacks' second.

Pieter-Steph du Toit made the most of some slack New Zealand defending after the restart and Pollard was successful with a drop-goal from distance, but Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett kept the Springboks at arm's length from the tee.

"It was a heck of Test match. It was the full 80 minutes that we had to work," said All Blacks skipper Read.

"You're fortunate [that] sometimes it just happens in those couple of moments and we managed to take them. That's probably the difference in the game.

"We had to defend a little bit early on and when you don't have the ball you can't do too much, so when we did get opportunities we wanted to try to speed the game up."

Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi was frustrated his team did not punish New Zealand further when they had the chance, having reduced their arrears to four points in the second half.

"I think we took too long to get into the game," said Kolisi, despite his side appearing to be firmly on top during the first quarter.

"I think we stuck to our guns and our plan worked in the second half. We wanted to score first and it happened, but we couldn't capitalise on our opportunities."

Beauden Barrett, who started at full-back, played on with a bloody nose after being hit in the face by Duane Vermeulen's boot when trying to tackle the forward.

Barrett said: "It's a bit sore. It's never good getting a boot to the nose, especially from a big lad like Duane. You expect to take a few bumps when you play the Springboks, so it was worth it.

"We got to throw the ball around a bit – sometimes too much, it was a bit greasy out there, but there was some expansive rugby. If we can keep doing that all tournament that's what we're here for."

New Zealand were unforgiving as they punished South Africa errors to get their Rugby World Cup title defence under way with a thrilling 23-13 victory in the blockbuster Pool B clash in Yokohama.

Rugby Championship winners South Africa had been tipped as the leading contenders to dethrone New Zealand in Japan and they piled the pressure on the All Blacks in the early stages.

However, they only had three points from Handre Pollard to show for their efforts before sloppiness set in during a six-minute blitz that included tries from George Bridge and Scott Barrett.

Pieter-Steph du Toit crossed and Pollard scored a fine drop-goal as the Springboks regained a foothold in the second half, but the All Blacks were able to retain their record of having never lost a group stage match.

Pollard split the posts in the second minute after Bridge was pinged for not releasing the ball, and the Springboks maintained their commanding start.

He then hit the upright from the tee after Faf de Klerk intelligently won another penalty, but the scrum-half's stray pass was pounced on by Richie Mo'unga and Makazole Mapimpi's illegal attempt to win it back led to the fly-half restoring parity.

The champions had clicked into gear and Mo'unga's cross-field kick enabled Sevu Reece to charge down the right, setting a move in motion that ended with Beauden Barrett darting through a gap and offloading for Bridge to score his eighth try in six Tests.

New Zealand punished another mistake when Pollard dropped a high ball and Anton Lienert-Brown skipped in off the right before sending Scott Barrett under the posts, while Mo'unga missed a chance to make it 20-3 at the break from the left touchline.

Du Toit took advantage of a defensive lapse from the All Blacks to run straight in from a ruck in the 48th minute and Pollard reduced the arrears to four points with a stunning drop-goal from 40 yards out.

Mo'unga slotted through another penalty and the boot of Beauden Barrett helped keep the Springboks at bay as New Zealand extended their winning run in World Cups to 15 matches.

 

De Klerk opens the door

South Africa were in complete control until De Klerk's sloppy pass was set upon by Mo'unga, and it proved to be the turning point. New Zealand added 17 points in the next five minutes to underline their status as favourites for the trophy, with Rassie Erasmus likely to have concerns over the fitness of Trevor Nyakane and Cheslin Kolbe after late injuries.

Barrett at full-back pays off

Hansen's decision to play Mo'unga at fly-half and Beauden Barrett at 15 paid dividends, with both playing important roles as playmakers as the All Blacks tore South Africa apart in the first half. The latter was then granted the chance to play the last 10 minutes in his favoured position.

What's next?

The Springboks return to action against neighbours Namibia in Toyota next Saturday, while the All Blacks must wait until October 2 to take on Canada in Oita.

France captain Guilhem Guirado thought his side had thrown away victory in their Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina when Emiliano Boffelli lined up a last-minute penalty in Tokyo.

Les Bleus claimed a 23-21 victory on Saturday, which could well prove crucial with England also in Group C, but only after Boffelli's last-gasp attempt at three points drifted narrowly wide from 53 metres.

That miss ensured a Camille Lopez drop-goal with 11 minutes remaining was decisive for a France side that had led 20-3 at the interval, only to be comprehensively outplayed in the second half.

Asked what was going through his head when Boffelli prepared to kick what could have been a match-winning penalty for Argentina, Guirado said: "I was thinking the game is finished and we lost the game."

Reflecting on his side's hit-and-miss display, the veteran hooker added: "We never controlled the game and we never controlled the ball in the second half, but we are very proud of the first half because we were very clinical. When we play like this we are very dangerous.

"I don't know [what went wrong after the interval], but we never controlled the ball. We were doing just two or three phases, we were playing a lot of kick-chase. I think we are better when we play with the hands."

Argentina captain Pablo Matera was deeply unimpressed with his side's performance in the first 40, which ultimately left them with just too much to do.

"[It was a] really bad start from us as a team and it's not good enough," said Matera.

"I think France at the beginning didn't do too much, but they took their opportunities and scored points."

France escaped the ignominy of being on the receiving end of the biggest comeback in Rugby World Cup history as Camille Lopez's drop goal secured a 23-21 victory over Argentina.

A Jekyll and Hyde display from Les Bleus saw them take a 17-point lead in the first half as Gael Fickou and Antoine Dupont crossed within four minutes of each other at the end of impressive moves.

But the Pumas roared back and were soon leading after using their set-piece to get Guido Petti Pagadizabal and Julian Montoya over from line-outs.

Lopez's first act after coming on as a replacement was to kick the winning points, with Emiliano Boffelli missing a last-minute penalty and the final whistle was followed by a short brawl between the two sets of players.

Nicolas Sanchez slotted through a penalty after a bulldozing run by Petti Pagadizabal but France moved ahead when Virimi Vakatawa dropped Pablo Matera and fed Fickou, who stepped in off the left and stretched over in the 17th minute.

A surge down the right from Damian Penaud proved key to Les Bleus' opener and, after some terrific hands in the build-up, the wing offloaded in the tackle for Dupont to go over in the corner.

After adding the extras to both tries, Romain Ntamack contributed a pair of three-pointers either side of some stoic try-line defence to send France into the break 20-3 up.

The Pumas meant business after the restart, though, and had their first try within two minutes – Petti Pagadizabal making the most of the decision to opt for a line-out rather than a kick at goal from a penalty.

Argentina repeated the trick in the 53rd minute and Montoya touched down off the rolling maul, but Sanchez – having appeared to hurt his shoulder in the first half – missed the conversion and was replaced by Benjamin Urdapilleta, who quickly reduced the deficit to two points.

Urdapilleta edged the Pumas ahead for the first time after the TMO decided Boffelli's aerial challenge with Penaud, which saw the wing leave for a head injury assessment, was fair.

Lopez's ambitious drop goal just about had enough length on it and Fickou was let off the hook by Boffelli after a clumsy tackle on the full-back, whose 53-metre penalty curled narrowly wide to give France the win.

 

France strike first blow

In a pool that also includes England, it always seemed likely that the winner of this game will follow them into the quarter-finals. Having fallen in their opener, Argentina will need a big performance against Eddie Jones' side if they are to revive hopes of progression.

Les Bleus lose their discipline

Les Bleus struggled to cope with Argentina's electric start to the second half and referee Angus Gardner warned them twice that repeated infringements could lead to a yellow card. They were fortunate that did not come to fruition.

What's next?

Argentina take on Tonga in Higashiosaka next Saturday, while France are not in action until their match with the United States in Fukuoka on October 2.

Australia knew Fiji were going to start their Rugby World Cup clash "like fury" and Michael Cheika was frustrated they did not manage it better.

The Wallabies committed four turnovers as they fell 14-7 down in the opening 25 minutes at the Sapporo Dome, Peceli Yato crossing in addition to a trio of penalties from Ben Volavola.

Fiji extended their advantage to 21-12 after half-time but Australia battled back in the final half an hour to secure a 39-21 victory to kick off their campaign in Pool D.

Hooker Tolu Latu touched down twice, with Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete getting in on the act late on.

"I'm not going to complain at all. They're a dangerous team, we know them very well, their players," said Cheika.

"It's what we expected. We probably didn't expect to be as far behind, but we knew the start of the game would be like fury from the other team and we made a few errors that let them into it, but we recomposed ourselves and got back to basics and were able to get it done.

"We didn't target [the rolling maul] in particular for this game, but this is the World Cup; no scrum, no maul, no line-out - we had a few line-out issues tonight - no win. So you need to start with that stuff.

"I know it's not generally assigned to Australia, but to be able to do the other things we want to do we need that."

Michael Hooper and Reece Hodge scored first-half tries for the Wallabies and the captain was proud of the way they reacted to falling behind.

"It was a testing match for us going down like that in the fashion we did. Fiji really came out of the blocks aggressive, they're big physical guys and they took it to us," said Hooper.

"Really proud of our guys for regrouping, managed to work our set-piece really nicely into the game and ultimately that paid off for us."

Levani Botia was sin-binned with Fiji leading 21-20 in the second period and Australia ran in two tries in his absence, a factor skipper Dominiko Waqaniburotu rued.

"It was a disappointing result at the end but I thought we played well in the first half," said Waqaniburotu.

"It's just a lot of things we need to work on for the next game, the discipline let us down in the second half and that cost us a player. We did well, but we need to improve more if we want to compete in this competition.

"We've got a couple of niggles after this game. We've got to go back to recover and take a sharp turnaround to get back for the game against Uruguay [on Wednesday]."

Australia are not in action again until they face Wales in a blockbuster clash at Tokyo Stadium on September 29.

The Wallabies powered past Fiji 39-21 to open their Rugby World Cup campaign with a win on Saturday.

After a sloppy start, Australia powered to victory in the Pool D clash in Sapporo, with Tolu Latu scoring two tries during a much-improved performance in the second half.

The Wallabies had trailed for most of the contest, taking their first lead with just under 20 minutes remaining.

Fiji capitalised on a nervous and sloppy start from Australia, but their winless run against the Wallabies stretched to 18 games.

The Wallabies were punished early, Ben Volavola landing the first points before Peceli Yato went over down the right after just seven minutes.

Australia needed a response and they got it through their skipper, Michael Hooper crashing over in the 17th minute after strong work from the forward pack.

Fiji had the Wallabies rattled, Australia committing four turnovers in the opening 25 minutes as the boot of Volavola helped Fiji into a 14-7 lead.

However, Australia capitalised on a penalty for a high tackle with their second try, Reece Hodge – who made a couple of vital defensive plays – crossing in the corner with five minutes left in the first half.

The Wallabies were punished for another error early in the second half, Fiji incredibly taking a 21-12 lead, Waisea Nayacalevu racing away after a poor Samu Kerevi pass.

Australia piled on the pressure to get Latu over, but Hodge – who had earlier converted a penalty – missed the chance to give his side their first lead of the game.

The Wallabies were in control by this point, showing far greater patience on their way to taking the lead after Levani Botia was sin-binned, Latu crashing over again from a driving maul.

Australia made their dominance count late and Kerevi ran through a Semi Radradra tackle to pull the Wallabies further clear, Marika Koroibete then sealing the win after a brilliant quick pass from Dane Haylett-Petty.

 

Worries for Wallabies

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika will be hoping his team's struggles in the opening 45 minutes were down to nerves. Australia were impatient and made poor errors, giving Fiji a boost they almost took full advantage of.

Fiji overrun

Despite their impressive opening, Fiji had no answers in the final half-hour. The Wallabies scored 27 unanswered points in the final 30 minutes to overrun a tiring Fiji.

What's next?

The Wallabies' campaign continues with a blockbuster clash against Wales on September 29, while Fiji face Uruguay on Wednesday.

Alun Wyn Jones will make history after the captain was named to start Wales' Rugby World Cup opener against Georgia on Monday.

Jones will equal the record for most Test appearances for Wales when he plays his 129th game for his nation in Toyota.

The 34-year-old joins Gethin Jenkins on that tally as Wales prepare for their opener in Pool D.

Wales have named a strong side, with 10 of their starting team holding previous experience at the Rugby World Cup.

Fly-half Rhys Patchell, who was under an injury cloud, has been named among the replacements.

Wales are expected to progress from Pool D, with matches against Australia, Fiji and Uruguay to follow their clash against Georgia.

Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Alun Wyn Jones, Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny.

England have earned the right to be considered among the favourites for the Rugby World Cup, according to Lawrence Dallaglio.

Eddie Jones' side, along with top-ranked Ireland, Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales and Rugby Championship winners South Africa, have been tipped as the most likely sides to challenge holders New Zealand in Japan.

England crashed out of their home World Cup at the first hurdle in 2015 but will aim to make amends this time around.

They start their campaign against Tonga on Sunday, before facing the United States, Argentina and France, with Jones' men having lost just twice – both times against Wales – in 2019.

Dallaglio lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003 and sees no reason why England cannot go on to claim rugby's top prize once more.

"They've set the bar high," the former England captain told Omnisport, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"There's always expectation with England in any sport, particularly rugby. We've got a history in rugby of doing well and I think they've earned that right quite frankly.

"I think the progression under Jones has been there right the way from 2015 when he declared he didn't feel we had enough world-class players.

"But I think on that journey over the last four years, you look at the team now and it's packed full of top-class international rugby players who have won Grand Slams, they've won the title a few times and domestic and European honours. So I think we can rightly go into this World Cup in Japan cautiously optimistic.

"They know they are capable of beating any of the sides in the world as they showed in Dublin in the Six Nations, as they showed in the first half against New Zealand and as they've shown in games more recently against Ireland.

"We're contenders, we're challengers and New Zealand are the team to beat. But we've got a chance."

Pressed on what else England need to do to prove their credentials, Dallaglio conceded a World Cup triumph may be required.

"How do you measure success in a side? It's what you win, tangibly," he added.

"This England team have a won a couple of Slams, they've equalled the world record for international victories under Jones, so I think the one thing they need to do is win a World Cup.

"To do that away from home would be some achievement. I'm really excited about their prospects, I'm looking forward to it. It's wide open."

Eddie Jones stressed the importance of England getting their tactics spot on against a "ferocious" Tonga outfit in their Rugby World Cup opener on Sunday.

After a group-stage exit at the last World Cup, England go into their tournament bow in Sapporo expected to be among the top challengers to holders New Zealand this time around.

The 2003 champions won three of their four warm-up matches after coming second in the Six Nations and will contest a competitive Pool C that contains Argentina, France and United States as well as their initial opponents.

"The focus this week has been about getting right for Tonga," head coach Jones said ahead of the match.

"We have had a good seven days in Japan where we have acclimatised really well. Now it is about putting in a game plan against Tonga and it is important to be tactically right. We know they are going to be ferocious and full of pride and passion. 

"They are a side if they get a bit of momentum they can be very dangerous and are well-coached by Toutai Kefu. We will need to be at our best.

"There is a good feeling about the place - I don't think there is anyone who isn't excited about getting out there."

George Ford will start at fly-half for England, with Owen Farrell captain at inside centre. Joe Marler is at loose-head prop with Mako Vunipola out.

Billy Vunipola, though, will line up against Tonga 20 years after his father and uncle represented the Pacific islanders against England in a World Cup contest.

This will be the third meeting between the teams, with the previous two – both at World Cups – having been won by England in convincing fashion with a combined score of 137-30.

England are looking for a seventh straight win in a Rugby World Cup opener and have not lost one since a defeat to New Zealand back in 1991.

The omens do not look great for Tonga, who have won only three of their last 10 World Cup encounters and come into the event with just one win from their last seven Test outings.

Distinguished former Australia international Kefu leads a squad that retains only four of the 23 players who lined up in their last World Cup match against New Zealand in 2015.

One of that quartet is Kurt Morath, the country's all-time leading points scorer with 340 and one of seven English-based players in the team. 

Key front-rower and the heaviest player in World Cup history, Ben Tameifuna, returns to the XV after being rested from a chastening 92-7 loss to the All Blacks two weeks ago.
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Ben Youngs 

Ben Youngs, 30, will earn his 90th cap and become the first scrum-half to play in three World Cups for England.

His experience will be vital with England naming a XV that is their second-youngest ever at a World cup, including flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill. Youngs scored a try in his last Test outing against Italy this month.

Tonga - Nasi Manu

Nasi Manu has been named among Tonga's replacements and if he takes to the field it will be an emotional moment. The number eight did not play for club Benetton or his country in 2018 and could play his first Test since recovering from cancer, having undergone months of chemotherapy.

"I had tears just then," he said after Tonga's welcome ceremony. "I don't think anybody knows just how much I have been through to get here. Not only the surgery and chemotherapy, but also the physical battle to get myself in good enough shape." 


KEY OPTA FACTS

- England have won only two of their last five games at Rugby World Cups, including a 60-3 triumph over Uruguay in their most recent fixture.

- England have surpassed 40 points scored in a game on three occasions thus far in 2019; the last time they did so more times in a calendar year was in 2003 (7), including two instances in their triumphant 2003 campaign.

- No player has scored more Test tries thus far in 2019 than England flyer Jonny May, whose six tries are level with German Kessler Lordon (Uruguay) and Joe Taufete'e (USA).

- Siale Piutau's next appearance will be his 40th in Test rugby for Tonga, becoming just the fourth Tongan to reach the mark.

- Kurt Morath (73) has scored more points at the Rugby World Cup than any other player for Tonga, including a 28-point haul during the group stage of the 2015 tournament.

Joe Schmidt believes the enthusiasm and confidence of Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale will be "contagious" for Ireland in their opening Rugby World Cup clash with Scotland.

The trio will start in the backs in Yokohama on Sunday, with Ireland having decided against risking experienced duo Keith Earls and Rob Kearney, who have been out with respective calf and thigh injuries.

Kearney's club-mate Robbie Henshaw will also miss out, though the three players are in contention to return against hosts Japan in Ireland's second Pool A match.

Schmidt, who will leave his post in charge of the world's number one side after the tournament, has no doubt Larmour, Conway and Stockdale will repay his faith, however.

"Their enthusiasm is something that's contagious, their ability to get themselves into the game," Schmidt said.

"Andrew has proven that he's got real aerial ability and that will be really useful for us. I still have the vision in my mind clearly of Jordan beating Israel Folau to a ball in the in the third Test in Sydney on our Australian tour so he is very good there as well.

"Jacob, of course, is a big man in the backfield. So, they're all feeding off each other. They're all young men who are very, very keen to impress. The best continuity, we felt, was to have the guys who have trained through the time that we've been here."

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, meanwhile, is buoyed by the experience his side will be able to call on for what is just the second World Cup meeting between the teams.

"I have seen the way they have trained and acted over the last few days," he said. "We have had two of our best ever training sessions, so as a coach, you get excited.

"I also see the experience we have in our squad and that counts for a lot in big games. This will be the first time that this team have all been fit and available. We are missing two or three players but to get a squad that has this experience for such a big game is a real bonus.

"Experience is important. Experience with form - recent form - and really good physical shape makes it even more valuable, and that is what we have with this group this weekend."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ireland – Jacob Stockdale

Having been entrusted to start, World Cup debutant Stockdale will be eager to make his mark.

The 23-year-old gained the most metres – 395 in total – of any player in the 2019 Six Nations, while also beating 23 defenders, more than any other player in the competition.

Scotland – Greig Laidlaw

If Scotland are to claim a positive result, their kicking game will likely be key, making scrum-half Laidlaw their main man for this one.

Laidlaw is on 695 points in total in Tests, with only Chris Paterson ahead of him in the Scottish record books.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Ireland have won six of their last seven games against Scotland, including their last two on the bounce.

- Scotland have opened each of their last four men's Rugby World Cup campaigns with a win, including a 45-10 triumph over this year's hosts Japan in the 2015 edition.

- The only previous World Cup encounter between Ireland and Scotland ended in a 24-15 win for the latter side in October 1991.

- Ireland have won the opening match of their last five men's Rugby World Cup tournaments, having lost their opening game at two of the three editions before this run.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph acknowledged the pressure of hosting the Rugby World Cup led to a nervous performance from his side against Russia.

Tournament hosts Japan won 30-10 in the opening match on Friday, though trailed for much of the first half following Kirill Golosnitskiy's early try.

Kotaro Matsushima stole the show with a hat-trick, however, edging Japan in front prior to the interval having previously reduced the deficit, before rounding off the victory in the second half.

But Brave Blossoms coach Joseph conceded Japan found it hard to cope with the pressure in Tokyo.

"The game showed that the boys were nervous, as we spoke about before the game, there's so much expectation on the guys," said Joseph, who replaced current England coach Eddie Jones as Japan's boss.

"I thought we prepared well for it but it's not until you get out there amongst it and then you realise just how much pressure there is on the guys.

"I'm proud of the way they came through it in the end. We made a lot of unforced errors, our kicking game was pretty poor tonight so we’ll have to fix that up quickly.

"But you’ve got to take your hat off to the Russian guys because they really took it to us and put us under a lot of pressure.

"Tactically we didn't change a lot. We managed to take the sting out of the Russian offence, they looked a little bit tired and we just managed to execute a bit better and took our chances."

Japan captain Michael Leitch echoed Joseph's sentiments, though believes the Brave Blossoms are now well prepared to face the world's number one side Ireland next up in Pool A.

"Straight away they put us under some extreme pressure with their gameplan and physicality, they really tested us," Leitch said.

"There were big nerves, 100 per cent. First game out of the way and we can start looking forward to Ireland.

"I'm happy, we showed great resilience to not go into our shell and keep playing. I think we're in the right spot to take on Ireland."

Kotaro Matsushima scored a superb hat-trick as hosts Japan overcame a brief first-half scare to beat Russia 30-10 in the Rugby World Cup opener.

The home side made a sloppy start and consequently trailed to 20th-ranked Russia and Kirill Golosnitskiy's converted try for much of the opening period in Tokyo.

But Matsushima, having already reduced the arrears, edged Japan in front just before the half-time whistle and set up a far more straightforward second period.

Pieter Labuschagne went alone for a powerful third try and then Matsushima secured a potentially precious bonus point, becoming the first Japanese player to score a World Cup treble.

A long way from the procession that would follow, the nervy Brave Blossoms had been punished inside five minutes as William Tupou completely misjudged Vasily Artemyev's high kick and allowed Golosnitskiy to steal in for the opening try.

But the hosts kept their cool and responded in fine fashion, with Timothy Lafaele and Yutaka Nagare combining stylishly to open up space for Matsushima to dart through on the right.

It looked as though Russia might get to the break with a narrow lead still intact when Matsushima saw a second try struck off, having lost control of the ball as he lunged for the line under a tackle from Artemyev.

However, the Japan finisher made no mistake on the stroke of half-time, being found wide open to sprint in for a vital score.

Yu Tamura dispatched a simple penalty shortly after the restart to stretch Japan's advantage, before a brutal Labuschagne try followed as he ripped the ball from Andrey Ostrikov and streaked clear.

A gutsy Russia display was rewarded with three points from the boot of Yury Kushnarev, but Tamura hit back with a penalty of his own and Matsushima slalomed through to wrap up victory after Artemyev gifted away a tired kick.

 

FIFTH-MINUTE FRIGHT FOR HOSTS

Japan kicked off their 2015 campaign with one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they downed South Africa, but it was they who had to fend off an upset this time. The pressure of playing as hosts appeared to get to them as they were penned in early on and, having escaped when one kick was charged down, Tupou's fumble let Russia through.

MATSUSHIMA THE MAN FOR JAPAN

Russia had opportunities on the counter-attack later in the first half, yet they lacked a man as clinical as Matsushima. The Sunwolves star repeatedly got himself into space on the right wing and his pace took him away from recovering opponents for a pair of crucial scores before the interval, adding gloss with a late third.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Having successfully negotiated this potential banana skin, Japan have a week off before returning to their traditional role as underdogs for a highly anticipated clash with Ireland. Russia face Samoa next.

Sergio Parisse will earn a share of Rugby World Cup history on Sunday but insists his focus is on victory for Italy against Namibia.

The Azzurri begin their campaign in Higashiosaka this weekend and, as expected, captain Parisse has been selected by Conor O'Shea to lead the side.

This appearance will make the Italy skipper just the third player to feature at five World Cups, joining compatriot Mauro Bergamasco and Samoa's Brian Lima.

Parisse is also due to collect his 141st cap, meaning he moves level with Brian O'Driscoll as the second most-capped player of all time behind Richie McCaw.

But Parisse is determined to deliver team success rather than worrying about his individual achievements.

"I cannot wait to play on Sunday," he said. "The preparation has been long and intense and we have built up well. We have prepared for this game against Namibia in the best way possible.

"It will be important to find our feet quickly. Playing my fifth World Cup for Italy is a point of pride but, at the moment, I'm not thinking about it. The team is the priority."

Coach O'Shea must also remain focused on the task at hand despite continued confusion over whether he will remain in his role beyond the tournament.

It had been suggested Franco Smith would replace O'Shea, although that was denied, and reports linked Rob Howley with the job before the Wales backs coach was sent home from Japan over an alleged breach of betting regulations.

Discussing the clash with Namibia, O'Shea said: "We have been preparing for this moment for a long time, going through several stages. Now we will finally take to the field.

"We have worked to a good level and now we want to demonstrate our value on the field. Our only goal now is to start the World Cup in the best way and get a good result against Namibia."

Tjiuee Uanivi will captain Namibia, while Eugene Jantjies becomes their first player to appear at four World Cups.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy - Edoardo Padovani

The Azzurri finished the 2019 Six Nations bottom of the pile after seeing their run of consecutive defeats in the competition stretch to 22 matches. However, Padovani at least proved a bright spark, scoring tries against Scotland, Wales and Ireland as Italy threatened the occasional scare.

Namibia - Tjiuee Uanivi

Former Namibia captain Renaldo Bothma confirmed his international retirement ahead of the squad announcement, with Johan Deysel taking on the role. But the new skipper's absence from the opener sees the responsibility on the shoulders of deputy Uanivi increase further.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Italy won the sides' previous meeting 49-24 in 2001, but Namibia had come out on top in their prior two meetings in 1991.

- Not since 1991 against the United States have Italy began a World Cup campaign with a victory, losing their past six openers.

- This will be Namibia's 20th World Cup match and they are still looking for their first win at the tournament.

- Italy's only away Test win in their past 16 such matches came in Japan against the World Cup hosts in June last year.

South Africa have one of the great names in sport on their side as they prepare to begin their Rugby World Cup campaign against New Zealand.

The Springboks will take on the defending champions on Saturday and they can count on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for support.

NFL great Brady is an American, and the United States are in the competition, albeit in a different pool, but he is backing South Africa.

The 42-year-old sent a video clip to the Springboks, who posted it on their Twitter page, in which he said: "Springboks, good luck to you in Japan. Kick some butt. Go Bok!"

As South Africa's caption noted: "Can't go wrong with the GOAT in your corner."

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