Offensive and defensive efforts against Samoa: A turning point that revived Matsushima, the “Ferrari” of Japan’s national team, who once “lost his motivation. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Offensive and defensive efforts against Samoa: A turning point that revived Matsushima, the “Ferrari” of Japan’s national team, who once “lost his motivation.

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The Japanese team’s “phantom try” came just after the 20-minute mark of the second half when they ran 50 meters, leaving the Samoans behind with a nimble run, but their teammate was fouled for a knock-on just prior to the try.

Japan, aiming to become the first team in history to advance to the last four of the Rugby World Cup (hereinafter referred to as “the World Cup”), swept aside Samoa 28-22 to earn their second win in Group D and move into second place in their group. A win against Argentina in their next match on October 8 will decide who will advance past the group stage.

The Japanese national team had lost 12-34 on September 18 (Japan time) to England, the “home country of rugby” and winners of the tournament, and entered the match against Samoa on that day with a win and a loss. WTB Kotaro Matsushima (Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath), the only “overseas” BK in the four years of the COVID-19 crisis, repeated a great run from a brilliant step, including against England.

In the 32nd minute of the first half, with the score 10-3, Matsushima made a breakthrough that led to a try by Leach Michael. Not only did Matsushima attack, but he also tackled a Samoan player and induced a passing error to nip in the bud a try down the stretch.

Matsushima tackled an opponent and induced a passing error, thus nipping in the bud a major crisis in the bud. However, there are many things we need to fix, and our lukewarmness came out from time to time, so we need to tighten up.

Known as “Ferrari,” WTB Matsushima has been wowing the fans at Hanazono with his signature runs since his days at Toin Gakuen and was a decisive force in the opening game of the last World Cup in Japan, scoring a hat-trick of tries in five games. In the 17th minute of the second half against England (12-20), he made a great breakaway from his own line with a step and a handoff to create a chance.

He said, “The sharpness of my body itself is not bad. (I had a sense that there was a chance because there was a FW on the outside,” he said.

The game against England tilted in England’s favor after an unlucky pass was hit on the head and not knocked on, leading to a try for England, but the teams were evenly matched until the last 20 minutes of the second half.

Matsushima, whose top speed run during the match was 86 meters, the longest of the two teams, said, “Everyone put their bodies on the line, and we were able to defend persistently, and it was good that we didn’t give them any openings. The response was great, and we didn’t lose that badly. If we continue to play with the intensity we showed today, our opponents will get tired of us, and we will be able to see victory.

Matsushima, who is making his third appearance at the World Cup and has started all 12 matches, including this one against Samoa, expressed his extraordinary enthusiasm for the tournament in France.

I feel like this will be the culmination (of my rugby career). (I am not concerned about my age (30 years old), but I don’t know how long my feelings will last, so I will go into the tournament as if it were my last.

In fact, after the ’19 World Cup, the first time in Japan’s rugby history that the team made it to the top eight, Matsushima said flatly that he had “no motivation” to play for Japan.

However, after graduating from high school, Matsushima, who had played not only in Japan but also in South Africa and Australia, received an offer from French powerhouse Clermont in 2008 to play two seasons in Europe, which proved to be a turning point for him.

He said, “Going to France and changing my environment accelerated my hunger even more. (As I played games for clubs (overseas), I immediately felt the desire to play for the Japanese national team. (I guess (my motivation for the national team) didn’t disappear. ……”

After the England game, Matsushima walked on the pitch with his beloved daughter, who was still in the aftermath of the fierce battle, and held her in his arms.

During the past four years, Matsushima has also experienced another turning point. In 2009, he married a woman and had his first daughter. As a fullback, Matsushima was playing not only in France but also on the stage that decides who is the best in Europe, and naturally, the club made an enthusiastic offer to extend his contract so he could continue playing in France. Because the 23rd World Cup was in France, I personally thought that he would continue to play in France.

However, Matsushima decided to return to his old club in Japan, Tokyo Suntory Sangoliath, “I could have played in Japan or France, but I thought about my family.

Clermont-Mont-Ferrand, located in the highlands of central France, home of the tire manufacturer Michelin, was not a flattering place, with a population of about 150,000. Although there were Japanese restaurants, it took more than four hours to drive to Paris for even a single shopping trip. Matsushima had to leave his family behind as a professional rugby player who traveled frequently, and he wanted to reduce the burden on his wife and children.

However, Matsushima has strong feelings about France, his first challenge in Europe. “I am looking forward to meeting the people who supported me here because I played in France, and I hope I can play boldly and show them how exciting it is to play for them,” he said.

Some of the players in the locker room seemed depressed after not getting their first win against an England team they had never beaten before, but Matsushima, who has 53 caps for Japan, said , “I felt like I had done it myself.

After the win against Samoa, Japan will play their final group stage match against Argentina on October 8, and if they win, the top eight will be decided. Matsushima, the “Ferrari” who revealed a positive response to the no-try result against England, is sure to score more tries to lead Japan to victory, which will be the catalyst for the national team to advance to the finals for the second consecutive tournament.

  • Interview and text by Takehito 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 "Rugby Spectator's Guide" (Kairyusha). In high school, he played as a strong tackling FB.

  • PHOTO Afro (1st photo) Aki Nagao (2nd photo)

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