Rugby World Cup hosts Japan have a gentle opener as the tournament gets under way on Friday and Simon Mail fully expects them to deliver a victory against Russia...
"Japan are overwhelming favourites to win this and the host nation could not have asked for a better opener. This is the perfect opportunity to claim a convincing win and build confidence levels before much tougher assignments against Ireland and Scotland."
Japan v Russia
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Japan eager to make a big impact on home soil
The waiting is finally over for Japan as the hosts kick off the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo and there will be no excuses if they slip up in a generous opener against Russia. The Brave Blossoms were one of the stories of the last World Cup after they stunned South Africa and narrowly missed out on qualification despite winning three of their four games. The expectations are very different this time though as Japan bid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Japan will again be reliant on captain Michael Leitch to lead the team with the influential flanker providing a wealth of experience, having skippered the team during their heroic effort four years ago. Coach Jamie Joseph has focused preparation on high-intensity training to ensure his team can maintain their high tempo for 80 minutes and wing Kotaro Matsushima, with six tries in his last six Tests, will be a major threat for Japan.
Russia difficult to fancy
Russia are one of the rank outsiders for the competition and coach Lyn Jones has a huge job on his hands to come away from the tournament with a victory. This is only their second World Cup appearance after losing all four matches in 2011. Their final preparation for the tournament hardly bodes well after Russia were hammered 85-15 in Italy last month.
Five of the six meetings between the teams have been won by Japan, including the last four clashes. The last match held in Tokyo in 2010 resulted in a thumping 75-3 home win and supporters will be dreaming of another emphatic victory. It was much closer in Gloucester back in November with Japan prevailing 32-27 but it would be a surprise if it was this tight in Friday's opener.
Japan are overwhelming favourites to win this and the host nation could not have asked for a better opener. This is the perfect opportunity to claim a convincing win and build confidence levels before much tougher assignments against Ireland and Scotland. A bonus-point victory will be the target and Japan should have the attacking ability to achieve this.
The handicap mark is set at 39 points and this margin has not been achieved by Japan since April 2017. Instead, the first-half handicap of 17 points appeals more with the vibrant hosts expected to make an explosive start in the opening game. Russia could easily be overwhelmed early on and Japan's fast-paced style should enable them to open up a significant lead at the break.
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