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Japan have recorded a bonus-point victory over a much improved Manu Samoa to give themselves a massive chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time ever.
Left winger Lomano Lemeki claimed man of the match honours after a stellar performance, but it was right winger Kotaro Matsushima who stole the glory by scoring the all-important bonus point 7 minutes after full time.
It was a timid start from both sides. Japan drew first blood with 2 early penalty goals, before Samoa drew level with two of their own for a score of 6-all after 15 minutes.
Japanese fly-half Yu Tamura kicked another penalty goal in the 23rd minute to extend the lead to 9-6, before Timothy Lafaele scored the first try of the game in the 27th minute. Henry Taefu kicked another penalty goal for Samoa before halftime, leaving the scores at 16-9 at the break.
Samoa started the second half strongly with another penalty goal in the 44th minute, drawing to within 4 points of their opposition.
However, the Japanese hit back with another penalty goal in the 50th minute, followed by a try 53rd to number 8 Kazuki Himeno, who benefited from an unstoppable Japanese rolling maul close to the line.
Japan looked like they had the match wrapped up, before a try to Henry Taefu (who scored all of Samoa’s 19 points) made them nervous in the 72nd minute.
However Japan were too strong in the end, scoring another two tries before the completion of the match (including the crucial bonus point try to Matsushima in the 87th minute).
Japan will now face Scotland in a bid to make their first-ever knock out stage appearance, and possibly even top their group. Meanwhile Samoa have had their knock-out stage hopes dashed, and will be sent packing at the conclusion of the group stage.
The Japanese can take a big step in the right direction towards sealing their first-ever Rugby World Cup quarter-finals berth against when they take on Samoa in this crucial Pool A clash. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the game from 8:30pm (AEST).
The Brave Blossoms have exceeded all expectations for this tournament, both as hosts and as competitors, and a bonus point victory over Samoa in this game will definitely result in automatic qualification for the 2023 tournament, as well as a likely maiden quarter-finals berth.
However, Manu Samoa will not go down easily in this one. They are hurting immensely after their 34-0 defeat at the hands of Scotland, as evidenced by coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson’s decision to make six changes to the starting line-up for this game, including dropping regular fly-half Tusi Pisi (who is representing Samoa at his third consecutive World Cup) in favour of the far less-experienced Ulupano Seuteni.
It has been a disappointing tournament for Samoa. They defeated the group whipping boys Russia in their opening fixture of the tournament, but the disappointing loss to Scotland means that they are essentially playing to keep their very slim quarterfinals hopes alive – hopes that rely on victory in this game and against Ireland in their final pool fixture next week.
Head to head it’s the Samoans who have the advantage over Japan. In the 15 matches played, Samoa have won 11 to Japan’s 4. However, Japan have won the last 2 fixtures, including their match at the 2015 World Cup which they won 26-5.
This match should be a similar result. Samoa have all but blown their quarter-finals chances with the loss to Scotland, while Japan simply have way too much to play for, and will be buoyed by their upset victory over Ireland in their last outing.
Japan by 14.
Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting from 8:30pm (AEST).
Where: City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota
When: 8:30pm AEST
TV: Fox Sports
Streaming: Kayo Sports
Ryohei Yamanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lemeki, Yu Tamura, Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (C), James Moore, Wimpie van der Walt, Jiwon Koo, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki
Reserves: Shota Horie, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Uwe Helu, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka
Tim Nanai-Williams, Ah See Tuala, Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow, Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao, Jack Lam (C), TJ Ioane, Chris Vui, Kane Le’aupepe, Piula Faasalele, Michael Alaalatoa, Seilala Lam, Jordan Lay
Reserves: Ray Niuia, Paul Alo-Emile, James Lay, Senio Toleafoa, Josh Tyrell, Pele Cowley, Tusi Pisi, Kieron Fonotia