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The pool stage of the Rugby World Cup reached a thrilling climax on Sunday with Japan cementing their place in the quarter-finals for the first time, at the expense of a Scotland side who did not know what had hit them.
It capped 40 breath-taking and dramatic matches that have left eight sides with their World Cup ambitions intact, and 12 not-so-lucky nations packing up and heading for home.
Suddenly the stakes intensify as the knockout stages loom into view, with cut-throat rugby now the order of the day over the final three weeks of the tournament.
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But before the drama returns this weekend, we take stock of the pool stage and pick out the highlights of what has been a fantastic festival of rugby union in Japan.
Jack de MenezesandSamuel Lovetthave been on hand to watch it all from across the Land of the Rising Sun, and pick out the moments they’ve witnessed that have delighted and disappointed along the way.
Jack de Menezes: Semi Radradra (Fiji)
The wing-cum-centre single-handedly wreaked havoc on Wales and Australia to announce himself as one of the game’s most powerful players. Radradra’s link-up play with Josua Tuisova had Wales at sixes and sevens, and he also obliterated the Georgian defence with his ball-carrying ability. Will have some big contract offers heading his way upon his return to France.
Samuel Lovett: Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)
Tipuric’s first two performances for Wales, against Georgia and Australia, were Herculean in stature. The Welshman led by example as he set about dominating his opponents at the breakdown, stealing possession and bringing a dynamic attacking presence to Wales’ forward play – even picking up a try in the clash with the Georgians.
But for all his contributions, there’s a player who has caught the eye more: Kotaro Matsushima. The wing has been electric for the Japanese so far, having ran in a total of five tries to make him the leading scorer alongside Josh Adams. His injections of pace helped alleviate Japan’s initial nerves against Russia in the tournament opener while his performance in the win over Ireland was sublime, serving as a constant threat throughout.
In the Samoa match, his late, bonus-point try sent Toyota into a frenzy, and he was at it again in Sunday’s pulsating win over Scotland, making sure he was in the right place in the right moment to receive the one-handed offload from Kenki Fukuoka – another star of this tournament. It was Matsushima’s break, too, which sparked one of the tries of the tournament, cutting like a chainsaw through Grant Gilchrist and Blade Thomson, before his teammates whipped away possession to culminate in Keita Inagaki’s score.
An absolute whirlwind of pace and energy in attack, assured in defence and always capable of producing those moments of magic, Matsushima has shone bright in Japan.
JDM: Australia vs Wales
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