Japan’s Rugby Team Wins First Rugby World Cup Match; Rikiya Matsuda, “Hirao II,” Who Succeeded in All Kicks, Vows to Pray at His Father’s Grave | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s Rugby Team Wins First Rugby World Cup Match; Rikiya Matsuda, “Hirao II,” Who Succeeded in All Kicks, Vows to Pray at His Father’s Grave

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SO Rikiya Matsuda, who made all six place kicks

The 10th Rugby World Cup (World Cup) in France has finally begun. On September 10, the Japanese national rugby team (ranked 14th in the world), aiming to surpass the previous tournament and reach the top four for the first time in their history, faced their first match in the preliminary pool against the Chilean national team (ranked 22nd in the world).

Rikiya Matsuda, who was wearing the number 10 in the cherry blossom jersey for the first time on the big day, contributed to the victory with six place kicks.

Rikiya Matsuda, wearing the number “10” for the first time in the Sakura jersey, contributed all six of his placekicks in the victory. We proved that Japan can score, and we still need to build on that. (On his perfect goal kick) I have missed a lot in the past, and I was very nervous, but I have prepared to score on this stage. I hope to keep scoring goals with good consistency.

He had a special feeling when he stood on the pitch.

I want to thank the team for allowing me to play rugby on the greatest stage. I was able to come back after a serious injury because I had help from many people. I am a completely different person than I was four years ago in terms of mentality, physicality, and, of course, experience. I have confidence in myself in those areas as well, and I just have to get through it,” he said, and his performance at his second World Cup more than made up for that disappointment.

Originally from Kyoto, Japan, Matsuda’s rugby career had been smooth sailing until the middle of his career. His father, Daisuke, was a rugby player who played for Unitika, and he began competing in the first grade of elementary school. He played at Toka Junior High School and Fushimi Technical High School, and because of the overlap in his junior and senior high school careers, he was often called “the second generation of Seiji Hirao.

He also started playing in games in his first year at Teikyo University, a team that was always winning. He played mainly as a SO and earned his first cap in his fourth year at the university. He was selected as one of the “Best 15” as the inside CTB No. 12. In his second year as a member of the team, he decided to focus on the No. 10 position because he felt that he was a little small for a center.

Even though he was able to play at No. 10 for his team, the Wild Knights, he did not get much time as No. 10 for the Japanese national team, and the situation did not change even after the 2019 World Cup. He continued to start as a bench member in front of the high wall of Tamura Masaru (Yokohama Canon Eagles).

In the previous tournament, the team achieved the “Top 8” for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby, and although there was a sense of accomplishment in winning as a team, I could not be satisfied with my individual play.

As a leader, he could not gain the trust of the coaches in the areas of game control and skill, and was never used as a starter, “It was frustrating. I don’t want to have the same experience as in 2019. I want to carry the number 10 in the next tournament.

After the COVID-19 crisis, he contributed to the Wild Knights’ victory in the Top League as No. 10 in 2021. And just as he started to play more games as a regular SO, even wearing the cherry blossom jersey. He continued to play as No. 10 for the Wild Knights in 2022, but in the final league game in May, he suffered a serious injury, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and was unable to participate in any national team activities that year.

He immediately underwent surgery and continued rehabilitation under the tutelage of trainer Yoshito Sato, who also works with Japan’s national team HO Shota Horie, with the single-minded determination to “come back stronger than before the injury.

He played in 17 of the 18 games (starting in 13) as No. 10 for the Wild Knights, and although the team lost in the final of the playoffs, he achieved a kicking success rate of 85.5%. He won the “Best Kicker Award,” implying a complete comeback.

Matsuda returned to the pitch with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, an injury that was expected to take 8 to 10 months to heal.

In July, Matsuda returned to the Japan national team for the first time in 595 days since November 2021, and despite limited opportunities to start in the games before the World Cup and the team’s lack of results with one win and five losses, he said, “I believe in my experience and communicate with my colleagues. The most important thing is to trust my experience, communicate with my colleagues, and make decisions.

In August, during the off-season before going to Europe, Matsuda went home to his parents’ house in Kyoto. He went to visit the grave of his father, who passed away suddenly from illness when he was in the fifth grade of elementary school. “I am in France, but I think [my father] will fight with me and watch over me, and I think I will be different from the 2019 World Cup, and I can prove that I am really strong (in the 2023 tournament),” he said, determined to do so.

It has already been four years since I had my disappointment. As No. 10, he led the Wild Knights to the Top League championship, but he also suffered a serious injury. Even so, he feels that he is growing both mentally and physically.

The second match of the qualifying pool will be played on September 17 against the “mother country of rugby,” England (ranked 8th), who have won the championship. Matsuda said, “We want to prepare so that everyone can see the same picture. If we do what we can do, I think we can do what we did to beat South Africa at the 2015 World Cup, and I want to play each and every minute imagining that we will win with a smile on our faces at the end of the 80 minutes. Sakura’s No. 10 is committed to playing to help his team win.

  • Interview and text by Kenji Saito

    Born in 1975. He is a sportswriter who covers and writes for magazines and websites, focusing on rugby and soccer. He has covered the World Cup for five consecutive years until the 2019 tournament. He covered all 57 matches of the last World Cup, when Japan was coached by Eddie Jones. His recent books include "Rugby Language Dictionary" (Seibundo Shinkosha) and "Introduction to Rugby Spectatorship" (Kairyusha). In high school, he played as a strong tackling FB.

  • PHOTO Aki Nagao

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