TOULOUSE, France (AP) — Japan won the game. Chile won the occasion.
Chile’s debut at the Rugby World Cup went better than anyone expected even though it lost to Japan 42-12 on Sunday.
Los Condores were willing and able and gave Japan, a quarterfinalist at the last World Cup, a hard time in an entertaining match. They even had sizeable support at Stadium de Toulouse judging by all of the red jerseys.
Captain Kazuki Himeno was a late withdrawal to a calf injury but Japan still started with nine players with World Cup experience and bagged the bonus point win from six converted tries.
But they also conceded two tries and were tattooed by Chilean defenders in baking conditions.
The Chileans’ confidence and trust in each other that Japan found so difficult to crack was apparent. Many of them grew up playing together and have honed their combination at Selknam, Chile’s pro club in Super Rugby Americas. Chile knocked out Canada and the United States to qualify for the World Cup last year and hasn’t won a fixture since, but it attracted new fans for its resiliency and ambition.
Japan missed 28 tackles but had the nous to exploit two yellow cards against Chile and lead 21-7 by halftime. Rikiya Matsuda, criticized for missing some easy goalkicks this year, was also perfect off the tee.
“Chile came with a really spirited performance, really hearty, tackled like demons, turned our ball over, really put us under pressure,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said. “We had to deal with that without losing confidence.”
Some Rugby World Cup debutants have suffered in some horrible first games down the years; Georgia lost to England 84-6 in 2003; Namibia lost to Fiji 67-18 in 1999; Ivory Coast lost to Scotland 89-0 in 1995.
But Japan quickly discovered it was in a contest in the sixth minute when Chile flyhalf Rodrigo Fernandez scored the opening try from a break by fullback Inaki Ayarza. Santiago Videla converted and the Chileans celebrated the milestone.
They were brought to earth when they dropped the kickoff catch. Japan recycled and rookie lock Amato Fakatava waltzed through a big gap to tie the score at 7.
Chile buttoned down and impressively held out Japan until prop Matias Dittus was sin-binned for a late tackle on opposite Jiwon Gu.
Japan used the man advantage from scrum ball when wing Jone Naikabula powered through two defenders to score.
Dittus returned but then Chile captain Martin Sigren was sin-binned for colliding heads when Kotaro Matsushima crashed into him.
Short a man again, Chile conceded a lineout maul try and Fakatava’s second of the match for 21-7 at halftime.
Japan was reduced to 14 after halftime when center Dylan Riley was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on. That’s when Chile created a second try with a little luck.
A chargedown flew to Ayarza, who charged to the tryline but was held up by Fakatava. Chileans arrived en masse, however, and No. 8 Alfonso Escobar crashed over.
Sigren returned and Chile had the extra man but Japan held the ball for nine phases to end with Michael Leitch scoring between the posts at his fourth World Cup.
Japan’s experience and fitness increasingly told, and late tries by Ryoto Nakamura and Warner Dearns efficiently capped a memorable first meeting between the teams.
“We gave it everything and we can be proud of our performance,” Sigren said. “We gave a good fight, maybe not right to the last minute, but we really enjoyed it, which is a really important part of it as well.”
Japan faces England next weekend. Chile has Samoa.