TOULOUSE: Japan teamwork trumped Samoa individual power and won their Rugby World Cup match by a surprisingly comfortable 28-22 on Thursday.
With Argentina expected to earn a bonus-point win against Chile on Saturday, Japan’s last Pool D match with the Pumas next week will be a winner-takes-all fight for a quarterfinal spot.
Samoa’s bid for a first quarterfinal since 1995 was terminated, and their second straight defeat advanced idle pool leader England to the quarterfinals.
The Japanese reached the quarters for the first time at their home World Cup in 2019 but their form and results this year suggested they were way off the pace to challenge again. But they were patient and smart and disciplined at Stadium de Toulouse, and Samoa was not.
A late converted try gave Samoa 90-odd seconds to pull off a miracle comeback. It forced a lineout on halfway but the throw-in was stolen — the only lineout Samoa lost all night — and Japan beat Samoa for a third Rugby World Cup in a row.
Fullback Lomano Lemeki, playing after the tournament-ending injury to Semisi Masirewa, highlighted his first start in nearly two years with breaks that led to Japan’s first two tries for ageless back-rowers Pieter Labuschagne and Michael Leitch.
They led 17-3 until Shota Horie’s yellow card canceled a yellow to Samoa’s Jonathan Taumateine, and Samoa drove hooker Seilala Lam over the line just before halftime.
Samoa’s second yellow card in the 47th cost it dearly. Winger Ben Lam, in only his second test, shoulder-tackled Labuschagne in the head.
Before the card was upgraded to red by the bunker, Japan turned the penalty into a corner lineout and mauled captain Kazuki Himeno for a third try.
Rikiya Matsuda couldn’t convert from the sideline, missing his first goalkick in the tournament after 13 successive shots across three matches. But then he made two more penalties for 25-8 and 28-15 to keep the scoreboard pressure on Samoa as it desperately and vainly rallied.
Samoa’s cause wasn’t helped by injuries. Captain and lock Chris Vui was a late withdrawal, then minutes into the match flanker Taleni Agaese Seu limped off. Late in the first half, inside back D’Angelo Leuila had to leave.
Leuila’s exit put goalkicking duty back on flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano, who missed his first chance but converted the second and third tries in the last 15 minutes scored by Duncan Paia’aua and himself.
But it was too late for the Samoans after owning so much of the game; 93 rucks won to 58 and making Japan tackle 184 times, more than twice as many as Samoa. But Samoa too often overplayed, running out of support and getting turned over.
Lam left Samoa short for the last half-hour and contributed to Samoa hurting itself more than Japan.