Rouen, France, May 26, 2018 – France made it two for two at home as Kevin Tillie stole the show in Saturday’s with a gritty 3-1 victory over Japan (25-16, 20-25, 25-20, 25-22) at the 2018 Nations League.

Playing some wonderful volleyball along the way, showing plenty of agility and guile in attack, Les Bleus turned to Kevin Tillie to provide the spark they needed to get rid of a solid Japanese side. The Outside hitter from Beijing VB provided 17 points on his own, including two blocks and one ace.

Stephen Boyer (15 points) and Jonas Aguenier (13 points) were also instrumental.

The star on the night for Japan was Opposite spiker Yuji Nishida with 15 points while middle blocker Kentaro Takahashi chipped in with a haul of 9 that included a team-leading two blocks.

With victories over Iran (3-1) and Australia (3-0) respectively, both France and Japan headed into Saturday’s game hoping to double their wins in the competition. Statistics favoured the home side as Les Bleus have won 28 of their previous 33 encounters with the Asian outfit in world level major tournaments. But there was a glimmer of hope for the Japanese: France have lost only one of their last 14 major world level fixtures played in front of a home crowd in France, a 3-1 defeat against… Japan at the 2016 World League.

Once again, against their favourite victim, the home side jumped to an early 5-1 lead. Straight off the mark, Kevin Tillie and Stephen Boyer were on target and the Japanese struggled as they were being picked apart by the high flying hitters (16-8). And, despite a few time outs, coach Nakagaichi’s men remained unresponsive as they collapsed against a well-oiled gallic machine (19-10). A last ditch effort by the Japanese, followed by a gritty rally, entertained the faint hope of an upset but the French easily claimed the first set after a deft Kevin Le Roux play (25-16).

Japan – finally – turned things around at the beginning of the second set as France misfired and the Asian outfit raced to a 5-1 advantage. But France are a formidable opponent and Les Bleus quickly hit back to level at 6-6. In front of a partisan crowd, Laurent Tillie’s men failed however to use the momentum and let Japan, led by libero Yuji Nishida, jump ahead (16-12). Once again, the French clawed back into the game as Boyer hit spike after spike (22-19) but it just wasn’t enough as Boyer sent his service in the net (25-20).

Another strong start from Les Bleus gave the home side an early lead (6-3) in the third. But, once again, France failed to make the best of their chances and let their opponents back into the game after Julien Lyneel hit it wide (12-11). It wasn’t enough, however, to disrupt the home side and, when Nishida didn’t hit the target Tillie sealed the deal with a powerful spike (25-20).

But any hope of a Japanese comeback in the fourth set was quickly dismissed with Barthélémy Chinenyeze coming off the bench to land a couple of huge spikes to help France establish a comfortable 4-point lead at the first technical time out (10-6). With the wind in their sails, the French were unstoppable as Boyer split Japan’s block (16-14). Les Bleus remained on top thanks to a Masahiro Sekita mistake (25-22).

France coach Laurent Tillie: “What came out from this game is that we need to learn to win with a struggle in order to get better. We played the first set perfectly but it is almost systematic that whenever you win the first one too easily, the next one is a loss just as easily. We got frustrated as usual and it’s tough to control. The arms are getting stiff and the frustration provokes silly mistakes, which cost us the set when it could have been finished earlier. We must work on this spirit during practice. Luckily, Rossard and Chinenyeze brought us a lot energy when subbing in and we won the game.”

France player Jennia Grebennikov: “It’s a good win. They played really quick and it was not easy for us to apprehend but got there eventually. I feel like the the national team are not all ready, it feels not as high and strong as the Italian League or the Champions League, but I am sure everybody will be at their best in the final round. I hope that a lot of French fans will show up to support us in Lille. I am confident it will be packed.”

Japan player Masahiro Sekita: “Since we are shorter in height than France, we had to play faster in short tempo, which put some pressure on them. We also defended well, which compensated for our lack of height. We are very happy with this game.”

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