Exactly two and a half hours before the first ball of the Rugby World Cup was kicked in front of an expectant and largely red-and-white crowd at Tokyo Stadium, six "Blue Impulse" Japan Air Self Defence Force jets roared overhead trailing smoke and turning heads.

The display of extreme power and aerodynamics was a fitting beginning to the official opening ceremony of the ninth World Cup and first in Asia.

But given the way both teams started tonight, it was perhaps Russia who took the most inspiration from the impressive acrobatics of the flyby because it was the team in blue who threatened the mother of all upsets for 39 minutes before Kotaro Matsushima scored the second of his three tries.

He had already had another ruled out, perhaps harshly, by Kiwi television match official Ben Skeen after the try was initially awarded by referee Nigel Owens. Skeen decided Japan's right wing had lost contact with the ball.


Justice was perhaps served only four minutes later when the speedster scored behind the posts and he got another in the closing stages following a shockingly poor clearing kick from Russia; a hat-trick for Matsushima, who becomes Japan's top try-scorer in a World Cup match.

Japan's Kotaro Matsushima, left, fends off Russia's Vladislav Sozonov to score his third try. Photo / AP
Japan's Kotaro Matsushima, left, fends off Russia's Vladislav Sozonov to score his third try. Photo / AP

Russia, who have had a shocking run of results leading into this tournament and have never won a World Cup match (their previous visit was in New Zealand in 2011), had a converted try in seven minutes after Japan left wing Lomano Lemeki dropped a high ball in his own 22m area.

Initially it was a recurring theme because Japan's first act was to drop the kick-off. This was not the start New Zealand coach Jamie Joseph would have wanted but early nerves were to be expected, for this was a historic night and a long time coming for the host nation.

There is real belief in their squad that they can go better than the last one in England, the scene of the so-called Miracle at Brighton - the victory over South Africa. They have never made it out of their pool and will have to beat either Ireland or Scotland to do it here.

If the noise generated tonight is any indication they won't lack for support but, although they eased away from Russia after halftime, helped by a runaway try for flanker Pieter Labuschagne, they will need to apply a little more attention to detail. And perhaps kick the ball away far less.

The conditions weren't to blame for the pitch was perfect, the weather warm and the floodlights intensely bright. Maybe the latter, and the feeling that the eyes of the world were on them, were other factors in the early untidiness.

That need to sharpen up a little is something the organisers don't need at this point for the opening ceremony was dramatic, slick and struck the right tone of the traditional and modern. It also featured former All Black Richie McCaw, who was given due respect by the crowd of more than 49,000. The loud gong sounds to signify halftime and fulltime were nice touches too.

The World Cup is off the runway and gaining altitude. Fasten your seat belts for what could occasionally be a wild ride over the next six weeks.


Japan 30 (Kotaro Matsushima 3, Pieter Labuschagne tries; Yu Tamura con, 2 pens, Rikiya Matsuda con)

Russia 10 (Kirill Golosnitskiy try; Yury Kushnarev con, pen)

Halftime: 12-7