Japan's injured Māori fullback happy with opening RWC match

By James Perry

Jamie Henry (Tūwharetoa, Ngāi Tai) withdrew from the Japan squad when an injured shoulder failed to heal in time. But that has not stopped him watching his teammates chase unheralded success while recovering at home in New Zealand. 

The 29-year-old made his test debut last year against the All Blacks in Tokyo and looked set to add to his solitary test with selection in Jamie Joseph's Rugby World Cup team, but a shoulder injury suffered during the super rugby season with the Sunwolves dashed those hopes.

He says he is content with having made the decision to make himself unavailable, saying he could not have played through the pain if he really wanted to, but made the call based on long-term happiness. "It was just one knock away from being worse off than what it originally was. So I weighed up the pros and cons and Rugby World Cup's awesome but family is more important. So at the end of the day, I'm happy with where I'm at," he said today from Auckland.

"Just on a personal note, gutted but happy for the boys and I know they'll do really well," he added.

Henry watched his side defeat Russia 30-10 in the Rugby World Cup opener last night in Tokyo. He says they played well considering the occasion, opening the first tournament to be played outside the traditional powerhouse nations. 

He says the team showed signs of nerves early in the game, particularly from the kickoff when captain Michael Leitch misread the trajectory of the ball, and shortly afterwards when fullback William Tupou failed to take a high ball, which was then regathered by Russian winger Kirill Golosnitsky who crossed for the first try of the tournament. "But at the end of the day, the players themselves will be happy with the game. They'll know individually what they need to work on and that will be pushed from the leadership and the coaches," Henry says.

One area they will have to fix up is under the high ball. It is an area South Africa targeted in their warm-up match earlier this month. Henry expects Ireland and Scotland to also pinpoint them in those same areas when they come up against them in pool play but he is confident Joseph, and his assistant Tony Brown, will have the Brave Blossoms well prepared for their next match against Ireland. "At the end of the day, it's 80 minutes and put on your best effort and see who comes out on top," he said.

Last night's man of the match, Kotaro Matsushima scored three tries. Henry says that could just be the beginning of an entertaining World Cup for the winger. "His drive's pretty awesome. Quiet fella, but man he can get going and I think given the right opportunities like he did last night he'll definitely score a few more tries." 

Japan's next game is against Ireland next Saturday night (NZT), a win for the hosts would put them right in the mix to advance to the knock out phases for the first time.