RWC 2019 Pool A: Japan vs. Russia
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Date: Friday, September 20, 2019
In a pool with Ireland, Samoa, and Scotland, this is a game between two teams that aren’t expected to progress into the latter stages of the tournament. For Japan, this is a game against beatable opposition that would start the Rugby World Cup off on the right note for the hosts, while for Russia this game represents another chance at making their mark at the Rugby World Cup after being eliminated at the pool stages in 2011.
Russia are the rank outsiders both in the pool and the match, with a recent 85-15 defeat at the hands of Italy – among the worst of the Tier 1 nations – showing just how far they are away from competing with the top teams in the world.
Japan are in a slightly different position, one that almost sees them labeled as a Tier 1.5 nation. They caused the upset of all upsets at the last World Cup when they beat South Africa, and they are the dominant force among Tier 2 nations. The problem for the Japanese is that while they have the ability to trouble the Tier 1 teams often, they aren’t quite yet at the level where they can run with them and beat them on a consistent basis.
Their 2019 Pacific Nations Cup campaign was an outstanding one. The Brave Blossoms won the competition with a perfect record, picking up bonus-point wins over Fiji, Tonga, and the USA. Carrying that form into this tournament may see them with a sneaky chance of a last-eight place.
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph had practically his entire 31-man squad to pick from for this opening game. The only player that was unavailable for selection was winger Kenki Fukuoka who is still dealing with a calf injury. The 34 cap wing might be missed in this game as he has shown the ability to score points against the very best teams in the world.
The injury to Fukuoka means that Lomano Lava Lemeki will take his place on the wing, giving the Japanese a powerful force out wide that should be able to challenge the Russians in one-on-one situations. Other changes from the Brave Blossoms final warmup game – a 41-7 defeat at the hands of South Africa – include Yutaka Nagare coming into the side at scrum-half and forward recalls for the likes of Shota Horie, Wimpie van der Walt, and James Moore.
The Russian route to this tournament has been a complicated one. The World Cup first-timers didn’t really even qualify for the tournament originally but found themselves thrust into the showpiece event when both Romania and Spain were kicked out for fielding ineligible players. That is how the 20th ranked team in the world – the third-lowest ranking in the competition – have come to be in Japan.
Russia will be looking at the experience and leadership of Andrey Garuzov, Vasily Artemyev, and Vladimir Ostroushko to lead the team in this match. The trio played in all four of Russias matches in the 2011 tournament and they will look to lead from the front as they are named in the match-day squad here. Also, look for the experience of Yury Kushnarev as he will be making his Russian record-extending 110th Test appearance against Japan.
Japan are the favourites and the combination of a hot home crowd and their continued dominance of Tier 2 nations means that picking against the Brave Blossoms would be foolish. There is no value in taking Russia straight up here.
Instead, look at some of the winning margin markets. Japan have the offensive firepower to score a lot of points here and they will want to put on a show to prove they can be a force in Pool A. Take the Japanese to win by 41-50 at 2.50 or even 51-60 at 4.50, both with BetXChange.