Ayumu Goromaru's goal-kicking could be the deciding factor when Japan take on Samoa in Saturday's Pool B encounter in Milton Keynes. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Both teams have enjoyed a turn in fortunes since winning their opening games against the USA and the Springboks respectively. Samoa lost 46-6 to the Boks in their second match, while the Brave Blossoms were handed a 45-10 defeat by Scotland. However, whoever wins on Saturday could still qualify for the knockout phase of the tournament.
In fullback Goromaru, who orchestrated their historic win over the Boks, Japan have a reliable kicker capable of keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Samoa have first-hand experience of how influential he can be. Sitting on a three-match losing streak against Samoa, Goromaru kicked 18 points – three conversions and four penalties – to guide the Brave Blossoms to a 33-14 win in 2014.
Samoa conceded a host of kickable penalties against South Africa, while their flyhalf Mike Stanley skewed three relatively easy penalty attempts. Failure to improve on those statistics could present Goromaru with the opportunity to edge Japan ahead in a match neither side can afford to lose.
Stanley has since been dropped in favour of Tusi Pisi at No 10, in one of five changes to Samoa's starting lineup. Pisi is a capable goal-kicker and did well when he came off the bench last weekend.
Whoever wins the battle of the boot could well put his team in control of this crucial tie.
GOROMARU'S STATS THAT MATTER
2 – Games played at this World Cup
29 – Points scored
127 – Metres made
31 – Kicks from hand
1 – Tries scored
18 – Points scored against Samoa in 2014
HEAD TO HEAD
Samoa 11, Japan 3
Samoa – 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Ofisa Treviranus (c), 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Sakaria Taulafo.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Vavae Tuilagi, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Mike Stanley, 23 Rey Lee-Lo.
Japan – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu 17 Masataka Mikami 18 Hiroshi Yamashita 19 Justin Ives 20 Amanaki Lelei Mafi 21 Hendrik Tui 22 Atsushi Hiwasa 23 Karne Hesketh.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images