TOKYO, 19 Sep – A preview of the Pool A opening match between Japan and Russia, which kicks off at 19:45 on Friday at Tokyo Stadium.
The Big Picture
Hosts Japan have fresh memories of facing Russia after they trailed 22-10 at half-time in England last November before securing a 32-27 test win.
Michael Leitch, pictured scoring above, was the hero on the day with two tries - both coming toward the end of each half - but the manner in which they dug themselves into a hole is the last thing they want to replicate.
Japan struggled with the Russian brawn up front in the first half, giving away five penalties plus a try following a misplaced pass from full-back William Tupou inside their own half.
Kicking threats from Russian fly-halves caught them off guard too as Yury Kushnarev scored all three penalties before his replacement Ramil Gaisin sent two superb kicks to either side of the field to set up a try in the second half.
"They'll be creating chances through the boots of their number 10s so we need to make our moves looking at them," winger Kotaro Matsushima said.
"It's important how we deal with them, hopefully we can do those well to trigger counters and unstructured play."
With the home crowd behind them and their scrum improved, as shown in their latest outing against South Africa on 6 September, the Brave Blossoms will see the win as imperative for their top-eight ambition.
History is on their side too: five of six hosting nations have won their first match since the World Cup began being staged in one country - expect for France in 2007 when Argentina beat them 17-12.
Russia will make their first World Cup appearance since 2011 when they lost all four matches. Their form heading into the tournament is worrying with just one win out of five.
Japan, meanwhile, had won the Pacific Nations Cup with three wins out of three prior to the South Africa defeat.
They know full well a bonus point through four tries - the number they managed against Russia last November - or more could be crucial come the end of the pool stage after they were edged by South Africa and Scotland four years ago despite winning the same number of games.
Form guide (most recent matches first)
Played 6 – Japan 5W – Russia 1W – Drawn 0
In the spotlight
In fly-half Yu Tamura and scrum-half Yutaka Nagare, Japan have half-backs of their own capable of creating chances and the forwards will hope to hand the ball over to the pair with sufficient time to elaborate.
"We'll be fine if they play as usual, the most important thing would be for us outside to give them as good communication as we can," said Leitch. "We will do what we have to do to give them options."
Japan winger Kenki Fukuoka (right hamstring) and Amanaki Mafi (right shoulder) have been left out after picking up knocks in their latest match against South Africa. Kazuki Himeno takes up the latter's number eight role while Lomano Lemeki fills in at winger.
Full-back Denis Simplikevich, who scored tries against Ireland and Australia in the 2011 World Cup, has been left out.
Stats & Trivia
Japan will appear in the Rugby World Cup for the ninth time. Canada and Japan are the only Tier 2 teams to have appeared in all World Cups.
"We were very lucky to have won when we last played Russia. When we went into the test match last year, we prepared very well, very similar to this week, but they put us under whole lots of pressure." - Japan coach Jamie Joseph (NZL).
"Japan are entering the game as favourites. Let me be frank, we have a 20 per cent chance in this game - but that's just on paper. We have made four replacements since the match we played against Japan in Gloucester and now all of the best Russian players are in the squad." - Russia coach Lyn Jones (WAL).