RI REELS IN AUSTRALIA AS JAPAN GET OFF THE MARK
Rouen, France, May 25, 2018 – Haku Ri guided Japan to victory in their first ever FIVB men’s Nations League encounter as they saw off Australia in 4 sets (25-18, 25-15, 23-25, 25-17) to open up their Pool 1 campaign on a positive note.
Japan were the better side against an Australia team ranked a lowly 16th in the world, and the defending Asian champions mixed some beautiful disguised shots with frustrating errors in equal measure in a display that was far from flawless. But they got the job done, although bigger tests await them against 2017 World League champions France and Asian powerhouses Iran in Rouen over the course of the weekend.
The Japanese were indebted to Ri’s power at the net with their main attacking focal point chipping in with a game-high 18 points, while Masahiro Yanagida and Yuji Nishida were the supporting duo with 16 and 15 points respectively with Japan, at times, showing fluidity and artistry in attack. But their serving was often found wanting and will be ruthlessly exposed against better teams unless they improve markedly.
Australia gave it their all but were outclassed by a side ranked 4 places above them in the world rankings, although top scorer Neremiah Mote – with 16 points – was always dangerous from spike range. Lincoln Williams (8 points) and replacement Thomas Hodges (11 points), who made a big impact when he came on in the 3rd set, also produced notable performances, but collectively Australia were error-strewn with their serving a huge weakness.
Japan had a 4-2 winning record against the Volleyroos prior to this match, and were favourites to add another victory in Rouen, and they began to take control when Nishida and then Ri powered home a pair of spikes to put their side into an 8-6 lead heading into the first technical time out. A superb Jordan Richards spike closed the gap to 11-12, but 4 straight points put the Japanese in complete control at 16-11. Japan then pulled clear to take the set 25-18.
The second set was painful viewing from a serving perspective with 3 successive serving errors – 2 from Australia and 1 from Japan – contributing to a messy opening, but Japan soon picked things up and led 8-5 at the first technical time out. Japan, who impressed in Group 2 in last year’s World League before losing all 5 matches in the Grand Champions Cup, were soon pegged back with coaches Yuichi Nakagaichi and Philippe Blain calling a time out at 10-10. It seemed to do the trick as Japan led 16-13 at the next technical time out following a poor serve from Australia’s Richards. Japan sensed their opportunity against limited opposition and they scored 6 straight points – thanks to some thunderous serving from Yanagida – to race clear and take the set 25-15.
Australia coach Mark Lebedew threw on Hodges at the start of the 3rd set and that move worked a treat as the replacement notched 2 blistering spikes to help his side into a 7-4 lead, but Tatsuya Fukuzawa’s explosive spike – at 106 kmh – levelled matters at 7-7 before the Aussies led at the first technical time out. Mote was looking more influential and he went on a scoring spree to give Australia a 3-point cushion, but Japan roared back to gain a 1-point advantage at 17-16. A couple of superb Fukuzawa spikes looked to have got Japan over the line, but Mote produced 2 of his own, and Hodges – the star of the 3rd set – got the clinching point to send the match into a 4th set and haul the Volleyroos right back into it.
But any hope of an Australian comeback in the 4th set was quickly dismissed with Yanagida landing a couple of huge spikes to help Japan establish a comfortable 4-point lead at the first technical time out. And Japan seized the set by the scruff of the net with Ri – who was also invaluable as a blocker – landing a spike to send them 16-8 in front at the next stoppage. Australia were never able to bridge that 8-point gap, and Luke Smith’s dreadful serve handed Japan the set (25-17) and the match in 4 sets in exactly 2 hours. Japan, who scored 55 spikes to Australia’s 39 to illustrate their extra attacking flair, are off the mark in their Nations League opener.
Japan player Haku Ri: “We actually watched a lot of videos and our statistician helped us know where to block. We analysed the setter very well and that is how we adjusted our performance in defence.
“What will be important against France is for our team to side-out, which will be a key feature to have a chance against them.”
Australia player Luke Perry: “It was really disappointing. We came out with a plan and didn’t execute anything. That third set was just a dogfight and we happened to win that one, which was nice. Sometimes you have to do that but I guess it wasn’t enough here.
“Our reception was shaky, the serve wasn’t there. Now we really don’t have experience as a group. Obviously something went wrong in the way we prepared. Our attitude was bad, we didn’t execute or even find our rhythm.
“We have to respond. The best thing about this Volleyball Nations League and about volleyball in general is that you play so many games that you can redeem yourself the day after or the week after. So tomorrow we have to respond.”
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