Elec­tric Mat­sushima ticks all the boxes as poster boy for hosts

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

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

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