Japan moved back to the top of Pool A with an intriguing 38-19 bonus-point win against Samoa in Toyota on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The victory, at the City of Toyota Stadium filled with a sea of red-and-white supporters, kept the home side well on course for playoffs qualification. Should Japan advance, it will be their first World Cup quarter-final appearance.
More important yet from a South African point of view, if Japan beat Scotland and progress as pool winners, they will set up an enticing quarter-final against the Springboks with Ireland taking on the All Blacks in their last-eight encounter.
Jamie Joseph’s men had to work hard for the four log points, as Samoa produced one of their better performances of the tournament. The Pacific Islanders targeted the tackle area and the breakdown, and easily came away from the confrontational battle as the winners because of their superior physicality.
However, Samoa’s failed to deal with the speed Japan injected into the game, while their discipline also left much to be desired. Samoa conceded five kickable penalties resulting in 12 points for Japan thanks to flyhalf Yu Tamura, who also skewed one of his attempts.
Japan made a strong start, and deservedly opened a six-point lead via two penalties, but after a nervous start Samoa levelled matters with two penalty kicks of their own.
That mini comeback momentarily stopped Japan’s momentum, but the hosts hit back with 10 straight points, including a team try of the highest order. With Samoa, who had just lost TJ Ioane to a yellow card for an intentional late shoulder charge, looking to spark something on attack, Michael Leitch forced a turnover on the ground. The ball then went to South African-born Kotaro Matsushina, who started a dazzling run that took him 3m out from the tryline. From there, they recycled the ball quickly and with Samoa’s defence at sixes and sevens, Timothy Lafaele dotted down.
A scrum penalty allowed Henry Taefu to wipe three points off Japan’s lead, but that was to be the last points of the half.
The second half made for equally intriguing viewing, with Japan extending their lead with another try before Samoa mounted a comeback to set up a grandstand finish. Trailing by just seven in the last 10 minutes, Samoa camped inside Japan’s half and appeared set to score. But somehow Japan’s defence held on and in the last five minutes replacement Kenki Fukuoka scored their third try.
There was more drama to come with the clock well into stoppage time. Japan went close, but Samoa won a defensive scrum. In return, the hosts won a free kick and opted for a scrum themselves. In search off a fourth try, they opted for another scrum and quickly shifted the ball wide to Mutsushima, who threw a dummy before launching himself over for the sought-after try.
Japan – Tries: Timothy Lafaele, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka, Kotaro Matsushima. Conversions: Yu Tamura (3). Penalties: Tamura (4).
Samoa – Try: Henry Taefu. Conversion: Taefu. Penalties: Taefu (4).
Japan – 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (c), 6 Michael Leitch, 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki
Subs: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Kenki Fukuoka.
Samoa – 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Ed Fidow, 10 Ulupano Seuteni, 9 Dwayne Polataivao, 8 Jack Lam (c), 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Kane Le’aupepe, 4 Piula Faasalele, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Seilala Lam, 1 Jordan Lay.
Subs: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 James Lay, 19 Senio Toleafoa, 20 Josh Tyrell, 21 Pele Cowley, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Photo: Rugby World Cup