The performance of scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka will be vital to Japan’s chances of beating the USA in Gloucester on Sunday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Japan have captured the hearts of many with their bravery at this World Cup, starting off with a victory against the Boks. And even though they were well beaten by Scotland in their next game, coach Eddie Jones’s men humbled Samoa 26-5 to keep their quarter-final dreams alive.
The USA have shown glimpses of excellence in their three previous outings, mainly in the first halves, but came up short every time. Perhaps a better appreciation of the laws might have aided their cause, especially in the tighter battles upfront.
In selecting an understrength side to face the Springboks in their penultimate game, the USA indicated their aim is to go for broke against the high-flying Japan to attain the one-victory target they set prior to the tournament.
For that to happen, the Eagles must win a number of contests in key positions, but none more so than pivot AJ MacGinty in his battle of the boot with Ayumu Goromaru.
Japan’s livewire scrumhalf Tanaka, who plays for Super Rugby champions the Highlanders, has developed a great deal. His quick service, ball retention and good decision-making could be what set these sides apart.
Victory will assure the Brave Blossoms of third place on the log. But they’ll be hoping for more than that. As the host nation of the event in four years’ time, Japan will compete regardless of where they finish on log. The objective is to win and live in hope that Samoa pull off an upset against the Scots on Saturday, to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time ever.
TANAKA’S STATS THAT MATTER
52 – Test caps
3 – Matches played at this tournament
225 – Passes
7 – Kicks from hand
HEAD TO HEAD
USA 13, Japan 8, Draw 1
Japan – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Yoshikazu Fujita, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Justin Ives, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh.
USA – 15 Chris Wyles (c), 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Seamus Kelly, 12 Thretton Palamo, 11 Zach Test, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Petri, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Al McFarland, 5 Greg Peterson, 4 Hayden Smith, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Zach Fenoglio, 1 Eric Fry.
Subs: 16 Phil Thiel, 17 Oli Kilifi, 18 Chris Baumann, 19 Cam Dolan, 20 John Quill, 21 Danny Barrett, 22 Niku Kruger, 23 Folau Niua.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images