Electric Matsushima ticks all the boxes as poster boy for hosts
were the ones who really decided whether a game was won or lost.
The second is that you need a flash of genius or unpredictability in your play, whether it be electric pace, a wondrous sidestep or the vision of a clairvoyant.
And the third is that it really helps to play for the host nation.
Matsushima ticks all those boxes. Japan’s World Cup is just one game old but a hat-trick in that opening win over Russia was quite a way to get noticed. In that match he showcased all the abilities you look for in a winger: speed, finishing ability, a step and also resilience. He may have scored three but what impressed me most was how he bounced back from botching an early opportunity by spilling the ball over the line.
In many ways the 26-year-old epitomises this Japan squad. His humble post-match interview, where he refused to take much credit for the victory, was typical of the Japanese. And his back story is also typical of this team. Born in South Africa to a Zimbabwean father and Japanese mother, he moved to Japan when he was five. He has since played home and abroad for the Sharks, Suntory Sungoliath, Eastern Suburbs and Melbourne Rebels, before settling back in his mother’s homeland with the Sunwolves in 2017. He is one of 16 foreign-born players in their squad and there is little question his experience of playing abroad stands him in good stead. He certainly enjoyed a field day against Russia, although today’s clash with Ireland, and Jacob Stockdale, will be rather more challenging. Few wingers test you defensively as Stockdale does. His speed, allied to his ability to chip and chase in one movement, means you cannot overcommit against him and have to be ready on the half-turn. And one issue Japan will have to confront is the expectation, inspired in large part by that win over South Africa four years ago. That result was a miracle. A narrow defeat to Ireland, for example, would normally be seen as an excellent result but I wonder if that will be the case this time around.
No one should expect Japan to win this World Cup. A quarter-final exit would be an excellent return, but this tournament can and should inspire a generation.
Japan made a good start against Russia and I hope they repeat that against the Irish with Matsushima to the fore. If they do then his status as poster boy is assured and the next generation of Japanese rugby players will have someone to look up to. That, sometimes, is more important than whether you win or lose.
Humble hero: Kotaro Matsushima refused to take credit for Japan win