Japan kept their quarter-final hopes alive with a 26-5 win against Samoa in Milton Keynes on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Depending on other results in Pool B, the Brave Blossoms could go into their final fixture against the USA next Sunday, needing a win, or a bonus-point win, to finish in the top two.
Japan's victory at Stadium MK was every bit as convincing as the scoreboard suggests. They enjoyed 64% of the territory and 59% of the possession, and punished Samoa's poor discipline. The Pacific Islanders conceded 17 penalties, including 11 in their own half, and had three players sin-binned.
While a tired Japanese side had faded during the second half of their previous match against Scotland, they were able to produce a complete 80-minute performance on this occasion.
The Brave Blossoms thought they had scored a sixth-minute try when Ayumu Goromaru dived over in the left-hand corner, but the final pass from Male Sau went forward according to assistant referee Wayne Barnes. It was a marginal call that could have been referred to the TMO. However, referee Craig Joubert was playing advantage and Goromaru slotted the penalty.
The Japanese fullback missed his next attempt, before Samoa indiscipline saw them reduced to 13 men, with Faifili Levave (no-arms tackle) and Sakaria Taulafo (tackling a player in the air) being yellow-carded in the 15th and 18th minutes respectively.
Japan then turned down three shots at goal to take advantage of the situation, a bold approach which paid off on the third occasion when a strong scrum saw them awarded a penalty try.
Samoa, restored to 15 men, continued to concede penalties, with their ninth resulting in an official warning from Joubert regarding the offside line and three more points for Goromaru.
Japan then struck a big blow in the last play of the half when a multi-phase attack finished with Akihito Yamada diving over spectacularly in the right-hand corner. Goromaru nailed the conversion to make it 20-0.
The Brave Blossoms continued to dominate in the second half, with two Goromaru penalties extending their lead.
Samoa finally got onto the scoreboard in the 63rd minute, when they forced a turnover close to their tryline and counter-attacked. Paul Perez took play up to the halfway line and a few phases later went over for the try.
But that was as good as it got for the Pacific Islanders, who would finish the match with 14 men after Teofilo Paulo received a late yellow card for a ruck infringement.
Japan – Try: Penalty try, Akihito Yamada. Conversions: Ayumu Goromaru (2). Penalties: Goromaru (4).
Samoa – Try: Paul Perez.
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.
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.
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images