TOKYO, 20 Sep - Breaking through a defence becomes much easier if you can force two defenders to focus on a single attacker. Japan’s two first-half tries in their 30-10 defeat of Russia came because they were able to draw multiple defenders towards a single attacker and then deliver the killer offload.
When those offloads happen at the edge of the pitch they can force the outside defender into making a decision: does he trust his inside defensive support to tackle the penultimate attacker, or does he leave the defender he should be marking and go in to help? If the defender chooses the latter option then an offload can leave him regretting that decision. In Friday's opening game, Russia captain Vasily Artemyev made the wrong choice.
The first Japanese try (video above) came from an attacking opportunity where the Japanese players were initially each marked by a Russian defender.
They need somebody to either miss a tackle or they can force the gap by drawing the attention of two Russian defenders. Timothy Lafaele carries into contact, but Russia handle his charge and when he is tackled it should have given them time to rearrange their defence.
However, the centre frees his arm and offloads brilliantly to William Tupou. The full-back’s run is going to lead to a try unless Russia’s fullback Artemyev steps in to tackle him. That leaves Kotaro Matsushima free on the wing, and a simple pass from Tupou puts the winger in for the first of his three tries.
For the second try (at 47 seconds) Russia have Japan covered once again. Matsushima is out wide and is a threat but he is covered by Artemyev. When Ryoto Nakamura gets tackled by German Davydov he pushes through contact and that causes Artemyev to leave Matsushima and help out his team-mate inside.
The fear is that Nakamura will get free of Davydov and slip in for the try, but as Artemyev comes in, Nakamura frees his arms and offloads to the now free Matsushima for the winger’s second try.
Japan trailed for 34 minutes of the first half but went in at the break leading 12-7 thanks to those two tries - and their crucially timed offloads - which opened up the Russian defence.
From the stats desk
- Russia usually kick 20 times per match, they had passed that mark easily within the first half. That worked, it gave them the early lead, but it also produced lots of ball in play. During the second half the Russians visibly tired – victims of their early kicking game.
- Number eight Kazuki Himeno did not win the player of the match award but he made the most metres of anyone in the game at 113. He also made 13 tackles without missing any. His ability to get over the gain line consistently put Japan on the front foot and helped to tire out the Russian opposition.
- Russia made only 72 per cent of their tackles, missing 46. Any team would struggle to win a match with that many missed tackles.