Toulouse (AFP): Japan survived a ferocious fightback by 14-man Samoa to win 28-22 in Toulouse on Thursday, tightening their grip on second place in World Cup Pool D and ensuring leaders England would reach the quarter-finals.
Japan were more disciplined in defence and more dangerous in attack as they built a 17-point lead with a man advantage with 15 minutes to go. But Samoa struck twice as Japan ended up clinging on to their World Cup hopes.
Japan can ensure they join England in the quarter-finals if they beat Argentina on the last day of pool matches on October 8. Samoa wrap up their campaign against England.
“It is knockout footy for us, we have got to try beat a tough Argentina team next week,” said Japan full-back Lomano Lemeki.
Thursday’s game pivoted on a period of 16 minutes on either side of half time which brought three tries, two for Japan and one for Samoa and three cards, one for Japan and two for Samoa, the second of which, for Ben Lam, turned into red.
“It is tough to be down with the red card and it is unfortunate for Ben Lam, Japan exploited the advantage and they won,” said Samoa coach Seilala Mapusua.
“It is very concerning, we have got to be tactically correct or we will be punished. We are hopeful we can get it right next week,” he said of his side’s ill-discipline.
Japan took the lead after 13 minutes, swinging the ball across the field for flanker Pieter Labuschagne to smash through the remnants of the stretched Samoan defence by the left corner flag.
For the next 20 minutes, Samoa emphatically won the close physical battles, dominating the rucks and mauls and drawing a string of penalties but scoring only a 25th-minute penalty kicked by Alai D’Angelo Leuila. Rikiya Matsuda quickly replied.
Japan instead struck the next big blow.
– Rope-a-dope –
After winger Kotaro Matsushima burst down the right, the Japanese worked the ball quickly across the field where, once again, a flanker, this time Michael Leitch, was left with a short charge in at the corner.
As Matsuda kicked his second conversion, Samoa scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine trudged off, earning a yellow card for knocking a Japanese player over in the build up to the try.
It seemed the Japanese rope-a-dope was working.
But as Samoa launched another series of bludgeoning assaults, veteran Japanese hooker Shota Horie remained upright as he tackled Duncan Paia’aua. Their heads clashed. Horie saw yellow and Samoa seized their chance.
Samoa kicked the penalty into touch and from the lineout rolled the Japanese backward in a maul that moved at a brisk walking pace.
Seilala Lam touched down, but Christian Leali’ifano missed the conversion and the half ended with Japan 17-8 ahead.
Japan took their maul revenge nine minutes into the second half.
Shortly after the two teams were restored to full strength, Samoa centre Ben Lam flew high into a tackle on Labuschagne and saw yellow – which soon became red on review.
Japan emulated Samoa by taking the lineout-maul route. Captain Himeno drove over to score.
Matsuda was wide with the conversion – his first miss of the World Cup – but soon added a penalty.
With Samoa a man and 17 points down and Japan chasing a fourth try the game opened up.
Tumua Manu broke through the Japanese defence but Theo McFarland spilled the pass.
A long-range Matsushima effort was ruled out for a knock on by Dylan Riley.
But Samoa began to turn visits to the Japanese half into points.
Brian Alainu’u’ese and McFarland punched holes in the Japanese defence and Paia’aua scored in the corner.
Leali’ifano converted and with a minute left, powered over for a try and then converted. Samoa had saved their pride but not the game.