There was no fairy-tale win for the South Americans in their first Rugby World Cup match, but Japan were made to work hard in the Toulouse sun
Defeat on the scoreboard but a victory in so many ways. Japan beat World Cup debutants Chile 42-12 but the South Americans’ debut at the Rugby World Cup affirmed that, even when disadvantaged in terms of playing numbers and funding and other crucial resources, a plucky – and skilful – underdog can not only compete but thrill.
Chile scored two tries and played with a brio that had the crowd in Toulouse enthralled. “They’ve definitely won over all the neutrals in the stadium,” said Gordon D’Arcy, on ITV. “They fought for everything. They can hold their heads extremely high today.”
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Chile captain Martìn Sìgren had spelled out the objectives in an interview with Rugby World. “A good objective for us is being able to put on the pitch for 80 minutes what got us there. That spirit, that fight, that passion.
“Just being able to put that on the pitch in really competitive games for 80 minutes. Giving 100% and make the people who follow us, and who identify with us, feel proud. Make them identify with our spirit and our attitude.”
That objective was well and truly met. Japan, the 2019 quarter-finalists who extended their winning run in pool matches to seven across three tournaments, were made to sweat for their expected victory. Both teams contributed fully to an engaging contest played on another scorching day. Inaki Ayarza, Chile’s splendid full-back, was not alone in suffering cramp.
Japan scored six tries to two but were shocked to fall behind after five minutes after Rodrigo Fernandez got Chile on the board following a sharp attack on the edge.
Their other score came on 47 minutes, a short-range effort from No 8 Alfonso Escobar after Ayarza had been stopped just short of the line.
Chile, at 22 the lowest ranked team in the competition, won plenty of hearts with their spirited and whole-hearted defence.
Going into the match, Japan’s maul had the lowest success rate (71%) among leading nations in 2023, with an average of only 0.8m maul metres gained per match.
And the script stayed the same, with Chile frequently thwarting Japan in their red zone. Hooker Diego Escobar made a terrific strip of the ball for one turnover.
And they finished the match having made seven line breaks and 639 metres with ball in hand.
However, discipline proved an issue for the South Americans.
Tighthead Matias Dittus, one of only three Chile players based outside the country, made a very late chop tackle on opposite number Jiwon Gu that brought a deserved yellow card.
And then three minutes before half-time, skipper Martín Sigren was banished after making head contact with Kotaro Matsushima as he chased a box kick. Fortunately, the card was not upgraded to red and he was able to resume duties after ten playing minutes elapsed.
By that stage, Japan had finally registered the points their territory and possession dominance merited. Second-row Amato Fakatava scored twice, first capitalising on a hole in the line and then crossing from a successful lineout drive. And wing Jone Naikabula got their other first-half try when powering over from the blind side of a 5m scrum.
With Rikiya Matsuda converting all three tries, Japan led 21-7 at the break.
Understandably, Chile’s players trail most teams in strength and conditioning and they tend to tire in the second half.
Alfonso’s try boosted the energy levels but Japan were able to find more and more space as the match wore on. The absence of Japan centre Dylan Riley for ten minutes, binned for a deliberate knock-on as Chile threatened a decisive line break, aided their cause.
Michael Leitch, playing in his fourth World Cup, got Japan’s bonus-point try on 52 minutes, then centre Ryoto Nakamura the fifth. Warner Dearns had the final word in the last minute.
Japan Semisi Masirewa; Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Ryoto Nakamura, Jone Naikabula; Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Gu, Amanaki Saumaki, Amato Fakatava, Michael Leitch, Kanji Shimokawa, Jack Cornelsen.
Replacements 16 Shota Horie, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Shota Fukui, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Tomoki Osada, 23 Lomano Lemeki.
Chile Inaki Ayarza; Santiago Videla, Domingo Saavedra, Matias Garafulic, Franco Velarde; Rodrigo Fernandez, Marcelo Torrealba; Javier Carrasco, Diego Escobar, Matias Dittus, Clemente Saavedra, Javier Eissmann, Martín Sigren (capt), Raimundo Martínez, Alfonso Escobar.
Replacements 16 Augusto Bohme, 17 Salvador Lues, 18 Inaki Gurruchaga, 19 Pablo Huete, 20 Santiago Pedrero, 21 Ignacio Silva, 22 Lukas Carvallo, 23 José Ignacio Larenas.
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