After an opening ceremony inspired by Japan’s ancient culture, the country’s rugby team briefly risked reverting to their traditional role of World Cup also-rans, before rallying to end the opening game of the tournament with a comfortable win over Russia.

The Brave Blossoms overcame a nervous opening to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout stages for the first time, to the relief of hundreds of fans watching the match on giant screens at a fanzone in central Tokyo.

“The pressure of the occasion definitely got to them, but they did well in the end. I still think we can get to the last eight,” said Keizo Sakurai, a company employee who danced a jig, beer in hand, when Japan all but sealed victory in the second half.

His colleague, Ryota Ohada, was more circumspect. “The quarterfinals are our goal, even if that may be a case of heart ruling head,” said Ohada, the owner of an impressive cauliflower ear.

If the fanzone was any indication, Japan have quickly become every neutral’s favourite team,…

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Host Japan rallies to open Rugby World Cup with win over Russia | Sport
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