Japan beat South Africa in a pool game at the 2015 Rugby World Cup but fell just short of qualifying for the knockouts. They became the first team to win three games and not qualify.
Japanese rugby star Kotaro Matsushima has signed with Top 14 giants Clermont and has just recently impressed in his debut.
This year has seen an exodus by players to foreign franchises, especially with a great number of players from South Africa heading to Japan, England, France and Ireland.
So what will Matsushima bring to Clermont?
He was one of the best wingers at the 2019 World Cup tournament, with his ability to score tries crucial to the Japanese campaign. In his first game against Russia in the opener he impressed with a hat-trick, each time sliding through on agility and pace.
The first came through on an offload from centre Timothy Lafaele to the speedster, who crossed the line with ease. The second was from an offload by the other centre, Ryoto Nakamura. The young man slid through the corner and then headed back inwards to ground the ball. The last came off a pass by Rikiya Matsuda – this time a dummy and sidestep got him the clean break. His sublime agility got him to the line, evading another defender to ground the ball closer to the uprights.
Such a brilliant performance got him crowned the player of the match.
A good game against Ireland, making key tackles, is also to be credited to him.
Against Samoa he scored one try among other contributions. He took the pass from a teammate and got through the line before being stopped in his tracks. He made another line break, slicing through the defence, before being brought down. Even so, he released the ball and got up to continue the hard drive, finally being stopped inches short.
He made a crucial tackle on an open Samoan winger, breaking the momentum of the man. He made several other tackles and breaks in that game. Though the player released and picked up the ball again to continue the leg drive, he was eventually stopped by Japanese players.
His try came with precision, with the pass from Fumiaki Tanaka at the five-metre mark going wide and flat straight into the speedster’s hands. He took no time, slicing through two tacklers and powering over with momentum.
Against Scotland he took an offload from Kenki Fukuoka, who had broken the line cleanly, and passed it on to Kotaro when he slipped in the run. Stuart Hogg was still fixed on Fukuoka, and Matsushima got through to cross the whitewash.
Against South Africa, Japan were contained, but he was still solid. Matsushima had fielded many high balls. He made one fearless tackle on Damian de Allende, with powerful shoulder contact in the ball area causing the centre to spill the ball. De Allende was hit hard and landed on his back.
He also made several positive carries in the game. He was critically rated for his missed tackle on Makazole Mapimpi and several high shots, but in actuality this game was, like all others, simply solid.
Matsushima has proven in the World Cup that he is a world-class player and certainly one of the world’s best. He has strong defence despite his diminutive stature, has excellent ball-handling and possesses brilliant pace and agility. Play him anywhere in the back three and he will star for you.