Preview: Japan v Samoa
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Tournament hosts Japan go into this weekend’s clash with Samoa as favourites after winning their last two meetings.
But after the heartbreak of missing out on the quarterfinals four years ago, the Brave Blossoms know there’s still work left to do.
After beating Russia 30-10 and then stunning Ireland 19-12 to top Pool A, Japan will be hoping to take a giant step against the Samoans.
“We will be hoping to target the bonus point,” said winger Kotaro Matsushima, mindful that Scotland looms in their final group fixture.
“But first we have to make sure we get the job done and win the game.”
Samoa began with a comfortable 34-9 win over Russia but was hammered 34-0 by Scotland in their next game.
Japan coach Jamie Joseph insisted that will make the Pacific islanders dangerous opponents in Toyota on Saturday.
“They lost their game against Scotland and they’ll be hurting,” said the former All Black.
“They’ve had some tough times but they’re the sorts of things that usually bring the team tight together, so we’re expecting a really physical and tough game.”
Talismanic leader Michael Leitch returns to Japan’s back row after being dropped to the bench against Ireland.
That news clearly riled the Kiwi-born flank, who played like a man possessed when he came on after 30 minutes in Shizuoka.
Pieter Labuschagne retains the captaincy after an impressive first outing as skipper, but Joseph insisted Leitch was still the leader in the dressing room.
‘Come out firing’
“Michael is still our team captain – there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
“But the first reason why we put Michael on the bench last week is we really focused on him getting his rugby right – and it worked particularly well.”
Atsushi Sakate starts at hooker and Wimpie van der Walt comes in at lock as coach Jamie Joseph made three changes.
“Obviously Samoa will come out firing because they are playing to stay in the tournament,” said Joseph, who has considerable bench strength in the likes of Shota Horie and Fumiaki Tanaka.
“We feel that extra experience at the end of the game is going to be crucial.”
Samoa has won 11 of the 15 Tests played between the sides but it has been seven years since they last emerged victorious.
They have also been shown four yellow cards in their first two games.
“We can’t afford to play 40 minutes over the last two games with only 14 or 13 men and expect to be out there and win games,” said coach Steve Jackson.
“We’ve just got to be smarter in the decisions that we make when we don’t have ball in hand.”
But Jackson has a cunning plan to beat Japan – wining and dining referee Jaco Peyper.
“We’re going to take him out for dinner,” he joked. “And then go to have a drink.”
Players to watch
For Japan: The recall of talismanic leader Michael Leitch will add a different dynamic to the hosts. Despite Leitch’s return, openside flank Pieter Labuschagne retains the captain’s armband after an impressive first run-out as skipper against Ireland. Atsushi Sakate comes in as starting hooker and Wimpie van der Walt at lock. Wing Kenki Fukuoka, who came on to score Japan’s only try of the match in Shizuoka, is again named among Japan’s replacements.
For Samoa: Loosehead prop Jordan Lay, lock Piula Faasalele and flyhalf Ulupano Seuteni all make their first starts at the World Cup, as does hooker Seilala Lam, alongside brother and captain Jack, the No.8. Also making his first start – and appearance – at the tournament is Ah See Tuala. On the other wing, Ed Fidow starts having been cleared to play following his sending off against Scotland for two yellow-card offences. Thomas Ioane and Tim Nanai-Williams are the only survivors from the XV who started against Japan at World Cup 2015.
Head to head
Flyhalf will be an interesting contest. in the absence of Tusi Pisi, Ulupano Seuteni will wear the Samoan No.10 jersey and face off against Japan star Yu Tamura. Loose forward will also have a couple of intriguing battles – none more so than Pieter Labuschagne (Japan) against Thomas Ioane (Samoa) – two players who would have met in Super Rugby, when Labuschagne was with the Cheetahs and Ioane with the Highlanders.
2015: Japan won 26-5, Milton Keynes (World Cup pool match)
2014: Japan won 33-14, Tokyo
2012: Samoa won 27-26, Tokyo
2011: Samoa won 34-15, Tokyo
2010: Samoa won 13-10, Tokyo
2010: Japan won 31-23, Apia
2009: Samoa won 34-15, Sigatoka
2008: Samoa won 37-31, Apia
2007: Samoa won 13-3, Miyagi
2006: Samoa won 53-9, New Plymouth
Prediction: History will suggest Samoa has no trouble in dealing with Japan. However, Japan’s form at the World Cup makes them clear favourites and Samoa are up against it big time. Of course, Samoa can burst Japan’s bubble, but our money is on a Japan win by 15 points.
Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (captain), 6 Michael Leitch, 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Kenki Fukuoka
Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ah See Tuala, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Ed Fidow, 10 Ulupano Seuteni, 9 Dwayne Polataivao, 8 Jack Lam (captain), 7 Thomas Ioane, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Kane Le’aupepe, 4 Piula Faasalele, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Seilala Lam, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 James Lay, 19 Senio Toleafoa, 20 Josh Tyrell, 21 Pele Cowley, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Date: Saturday, October 5
Venue: City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota City
Kick-off: 19.30 (10.30 GMT; 00.30 Samoa time Sunday, October 6)
Expected weather: Clear with low winds. High of 28°C and a low of 18°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)