Japan's hopes stay alive after beating 14-man Samoa
MATCH REPORT: Japan took a big step on the road to the quarterfinal as they shattered Samoan hearts to win a vital Pool D game by 28-22 in Toulouse on Thursday.
Samoa was one player down for the last 30 minutes of the game after Ben Lam got his marching orders for a high tackle.
The Samoans wanted to punish Japan early, as Alai D’Angelo Leuila took aim with a monster 59m kick, but it just dipped short of the bar.
The size difference in the two teams were very evident as the mountainous Samoa towered over their Japanese counterparts and it was clear the men in blue wanted to exploit their superior strength and bulk.
In contrast the Brave Blossoms tried to pick up the pace of the game, trying to catch Samoa off-guard with their fleet footedness.
And against the flow of play, Japan was the first team to score in this monumental Pool D match as Lappies Labuschagne went over and tested the Samoan defence and found it wanting, as they opted to go wide quickly.
Twenty minutes into the game, Samoa had an attacking line-out from where they forced a scrum five metres from the try-line, but they bungled it, losing the ball in haste.
It took Samoa another five minutes before they opted to kick at poles, opening their account and trailing 3-7.
But another penalty kick by Rikiya Matsuda stretched the Brave Blossoms’ lead to 10-3.
A clearly rattled Samoa let another try slip when Matsuda sent a high ball into the hands of Michael Leitch to dot down in the corner.
The try was converted and Japan led 17-3 with seven minutes left in the first half – as Samoa was also left with 14 players when Jonathan Taumateine got his marching orders through a yellow card.
The two teams were each down a player as Japan’s hooker Shota Horie was sent off for a head clash to be reviewed by the bunker system.
Samoa used their superior power to drive over a maul to get their first try on the night by Seilala Lam, still trailing by 8-17 as the clock wound down the first half.
As the second half started, referee Jaco Peyper delivered the good news to Horie that his yellow card will remain just that and not be upgraded to a red.
Samoa’s discipline faltered more as Ben Lam went into a high tackle on Labuschagne, taking the walk of shame to the sin-bin and Samoa was yet again down to 14 players.
This saw the Brave Blossoms kick for the corner for an attacking line-out on the Samoa try-line sending over Leitch for his second try and their third of the match taking Japan to a handsome lead of 22-8.
And more bad news followed for Samoa as the yellow card was upgraded to a red, leaving them with one less player for the rest of the game.
But never write off a team like Samoa. They fought back, pouncing tackles and with ten metres out, the ball went wide for Duncan Paia’aua to score. The conversion was good and it was a ten-point game as they trailed 15-25 with just over ten minutes to go.
Not to be deterred, Japan kept the pressure, edging closer with some sniping runs, none more spectacular than Kotaro Matsushima, the man they call the Ferrari.
Another three points were added by Matsuda and the score got further away from Samoa.
With three minutes left on the clock, Lealiifano dotted down and converted his try to give his team the last possible opportunity to claw their way back.
Samoa won a penalty, kicking for touch and Japan had to throw everything into their defence, stealing the line-out and kicking out to win in dramatic fashion.
This win also means England qualify for the quarterfinals.
Man of the match: Lomano Lemeki for his metres gained, leading to Japan’s first try, as well as his all-round brilliant performance, both in defence and attack.
Tries: Lam, Paia’aua
Cons: Lealiifano 2
Tries: Labuschagne, Leitch 2
Pens: Matsuda 2
Yellow cards: Jonathan Taumateine (Samoa – 32’ cynical play), Shota Horie (Japan – 36’ head clash)
Red card: Lam (Samoa – 47’ high tackle)
Japan: 15 Lomano Lemeki; 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Dylan Riley, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Jone Naikabula; 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare; 8 Kazuki Himeno (captain), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch; 5 Amato Fakatava, 4 Jack Cornelsen; 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Kanji Shimokawa, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Seungsin Lee, 23 Tomoki Osada
Samoa: 15 Duncan Paia’aua; 14 Ed Fidow, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Alai D’Angelo Leuila, 11 Ben Lam; 10 Christian Leali’ifano, 9 Jonathan Taumateine; 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Fritz Lee, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Theo McFarland, 4 Chris Vui (captain); 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Seilala Lam, 1 James Lay
Replacements: 16 Sama Malolo,17 Jordan Lay, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Alamanda Motuga, 21 Melani Matavao, 22 Neria Fomai, 23 Danny Toala
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)