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Player profile: Kotaro Matsushima

Player profile: Kotaro Matsushima

Player profile: Kotaro Matsushima

Versatile and quick with an eye for the try line, Kotaro Matsushima will be crucial to Japan’s hopes of success during the 2023 Summer Nations Series. 

Equally adept on the wing as he is at full-back, the 30-year-old has become a Japanese rugby legend and is looking to go to his third World Cup in France.

The Summer Nations Series will be the perfect opportunity for Matsushima to lay down a marker for that, with the Brave Blossoms taking on Italy in Round 4.

But before the action gets underway, we have a look at Matsushima’s remarkable career.

A remarkable rise

Born in Pretoria to a Japanese mother and a Zimbabwean father, Matsushima spent his early years in South Africa before moving to Japan with his family. 

He would return to his birthplace in 2012, becoming the first Japanese player to join the Sharks Academy in Durban.

After progressing through age-grade rugby, the exciting back moved to Japanese Top League side Suntory Sungoliath in the buildup to the 2014–15 season. 

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He took to the division like a duck to water, and after breaking into Japan’s 2015 Rugby World Cup squad, the world was Matsushima’s oyster. 

A breakout 2015 

Japan’s inspirational 34-32 triumph over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup shook the rugby world to its core, and Matsushima played a significant role. 

He played 80 minutes of the match before being subbed for Karne Hesketh in the closing stages but was crucial to keeping his side in the match up until that historic moment.

And at just 25 years old, Matsushima still had his entire career ahead of him. 

An historic World Cup hat-trick against Russia

His career went from strength to strength between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, representing Melbourne Rebels and Sunwolves before rejoining Sungoliath. 

With the 2019 tournament held on home soil, the pressure was on Matsushima to perform, but the winger thrived on the pressure in the Rugby World Cup opener against Russia. 

He became the first Japanese player in history to score a hat-trick in the Pool A clash, getting his country’s campaign off to the perfect start. 

The match finished 30-10 and all eyes were on Japan’s try-scoring sensation ahead of the rest of the tournament. 

Finishing with five tries

Matsushima finished the 2019 Rugby World Cup with five tries, making him the competition’s third-highest scorer and cementing his place in Japanese rugby folklore. 

His fourth of the tournament came against Samoa, a crucial score after 85 minutes of action to seal a four-try bonus point in a 38-19 triumph. 

However, he saved his most important finish until last. 

His try in the 18th minute of Japan’s Pool A match against Scotland made all the difference in their 28-21 victory. 

Not only was it the Cherry Blossoms’ first-ever win over Scotland, but it also meant they advanced to the quarter-finals, the first Tier 2 nation to do so since Fiji in 2007. 

The move to France

Japan were eliminated from their home World Cup by old rivals South Africa in the quarter-finals, but Matsushima had done himself and his country proud. 

He was rewarded with a move to ASM Clermont Auvergne and showed how good he can be with a hat-trick against Bristol Bears in the 2020/21 Champions Cup. 

He was deployed more as a full-back in the 2021/22 campaign but found opportunities hard to come by last season as he recovered from a series of unfortunate injuries. 

Now back to full fitness, he is ready to shine once against during the 2023 Summer Nations Series. 


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