Munyaradzi lives up to his name, comforts Japan
By Robson Sharuko
Inevitably, when history was made in Yokohama yesterday, with Japan becoming the first Asian nation to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, the drama on the pitch needed a Zimbabwean influence.
That’s how this country continues to shape rugby, around the world, even when the Sables haven’t featured at the Rugby World Cup since 1991.
Hours after Typhoon Hagibis, the worst tropical cyclone to hit Japan in decades, tore through the Tokyo region and left a trail of death and destruction, with at least 23 people dead, Japan was celebrating a milestone achievement in its sporting history.
The country’s national rugby team, affectionately known as the Brave Blossoms, withheld a spirited second half comeback from Scotland to hold on to a 28-21 win, to become the first Asian nation to qualify for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
And, as is becoming increasingly familiar in this game, there was a Zimbabwean touch to this historic moment that gave Japan a reason to smile in the heartbreak brought about by the devastating cyclone.
Kotaro Munyaradzi Matsushima scored one of their tries, in a first half in which their blitzkrieg, aided by some sleek movements and beautiful ball handling skills, had threatened to overwhelm the Brave Scots.
It was his fifth of the tournament and helped the hosts not only to tie the score, after they had fallen 0-7 behind, but also helped settle their nerves while boosting their confidence levels.
Before a crowd of 67 666 at the Yokohama Stadium, the first points on the board for the Japanese came when Kenki Fukuoka slipped past Chris Harris and his presence attracted the interest of Stuart Hogg but an excellent one-handed offload fell into the path of Matsushima.
His first touch was always going to be decisive, at that pace, and it was perfect, and once he had the ball in his hands, he sped away to the posts for the try with Yu Tamura’s conversion bringing the two teams level.
And, Matsushima wasn’t finished yet, finding a way past Grant Gilchrist and Blade Thomson, the interchange of the ball that followed among five Japanese players was simply beautiful and, in the end the final act of assistance was provided to Keita Inagaki to provide the finish.
So, what is all this story about Zimbabwe?
Well, Matsushima, who can play as a winger, outside centre or fullback, was born to a Zimbabwean father and a Japanese mother in Pretoria, South Africa, on February 26, 1993.
His middle name, Munyaradzi, says it all.
He became a Japanese citizen at the age of five and, at the elementary school in Japan, he even played football.
After living in Japan for some time, he returned for a year in South Africa and started playing rugby, completing his junior school in the Eastern Cape before returning to Yokohama.
Seven years ago, he returned, again to South Africa and enrolled at the Sharks Academy in Durban, whose former students include Tendai “Beast’’ Matawarira, who plays for the Springboks.
The two are now set to meet in the quarter-finals when Japan take on South Africa with the Boks well aware of the danger their opponents pose after the Asians won their last World Cup meeting in England four years ago.
With David Pocock’s Australia also through to the quarter-finals, the Zimbabwean influence at this World Cup is quite pronounced.
Those battles can wait, right now, the world is simply celebrating with the Japanese and, after the horror of the cyclone, the country needed a comforter and, in Munyaradzi, the name which means exactly that in English, they got one yesterday.
England v Australia
New Zealand v Ireland
Wales v France
Japan v South Africa