Samoa v Japan - Teams and Prediction
WORLD CUP, ROUND FOUR: The winner of the Japan-Samoa match in Toulouse on Thursday will stay in contention for the quarterfinals while the loser’s chances of advancing from Pool D will all but disappear.
Both teams are desperate as they face off in the “death zone”, both knowing that defeat will leave their World Cup hopes hanging by a thread and that even victory might ultimately not be enough.
They come into this match with a win, a loss, and five points from two matches, with the latter second in the standings on points difference.
Japan’s head coach Jamie Joseph made two changes to his starting XV from their 12-34 loss against England, with Dylan Riley replacing Tomoki Osada in midfield and Lomano Lemeki coming in for Semisi Masiresa at full-back.
Samoa’s coach Seilala Mapusua made four changes to his starting XV from the 10-19 defeat to Argentina.
Taleni Seu comes into the back-row after an impressive 26 minutes off the bench last week, Sa Jordan Taufua replaces Steven Luatua at eight, Alai D’Angelo Leuila partners Tumua Manu in the centre, and Ed Fidow replaces Nigel Ah-Wong on the wing.
Not that either side’s destiny is entirely in their hands. Argentina, sitting one point behind in Pool D and with a game in hand on both Japan and Samoa after this match, will be paying close attention. They won’t want to miss out on the quarter-finals for a second tournament in a row.
And, given how close the race for the second quarter final spot behind England is, third place – and its automatic qualification for World Cup 2027 in Australia – becomes just as important.
Samoa are second in Group D, nine points behind leaders England and ahead of Japan on points differential, but a victory without a bonus points could allow Argentina, who face the group’s whipping boys Chile on Saturday, to jump to second with one round of games to go.
In the last round, Japan will face Argentina before Samoa face in-form England, a team they have never beaten.
“This Samoa game is a very important one for us,” Kazuki Himeno, Japan’s captain, said at a press conference speaking in Japanese on Tuesday. “But in this death zone, we knew this was coming.”
For the game in Toulouse on Thursday, Japan starts four players who also started victories over Samoa in the last two World Cups: hooker Shota Horie, prop Keita Inagaki, flanker Michael Leitch and winger Kotaro Matsushima.
Japan won 26-5 in Milton Keynes in 2015. The Brave Blossoms also beat South Africa that year, but, despite winning three games out of four, finished third in the group because they picked up no bonus points.
Ireland is in the past
In 2019 they beat Samoa 38-19, with Matsushima scoring the bonus-point try in the 80th minute.
That was bracketed by wins over Ireland and Scotland as Japan reached the quarter-finals for the first time.
“We beat Ireland such a long time ago,” said coach Jamie Joseph on Tuesday. “This tournament is completely different.”
Samoa’s World Cup arc has curved in the other direction.
As Western Samoa, they reached the quarter finals in the first two World Cups in 1987 and 1991.
In 1995, Samoa thrashed Japan 43-9 in Wrexham. But ended up second in the group on points differential to hosts Wales who beat Japan 64-15.
With the World Cup experimenting with five groups of four for its first 20-team competition, Samoa went into a quarter-final playoff which they lost to Scotland.
Since then, Manu Samoa has not advanced from the group stage, but changes to player eligibility rules encouraged optimism this time.
“I feel they have a much better squad than they did at the last World Cup,” said Joseph.
Manu Samoa delivered a message in Sapporo in July when they beat Japan 24-22.
“We have seen an improvement in the Japanese team and an improvement in our own team,” said Mapusua.
“So while we played each other back in July both teams have improved so we can’t really look too much into that game and that result.”
Japan’s Lomano Lemeki, coming in at fullback for the injured Semisi Masirewa, said he hopes Samoa repeat the mistakes they made as they lost their last match to Argentina.
“I think they could have won if they had kicked better. They used the forwards too much,” Lemeki said.
Samoa captain Chris Vui agreed Samoa had wasted chances against Argentina.
“They just need to give me the ball!” he said. “From last week we just need to finish our sets off.”
Players to watch:
For Japan: Shota Horie, a veteran of four World Cups, has plenty of experience that counts in the front row. Captain Kazuki Himeno is a fixture for the Brave Blossoms, a workaholic number eight that is respected outside of his country and within and will no doubt lead his side with aplomb.
For Samoa: The 32-year-old Ben Lam is a powerful runner blessed with plenty of pace and if he finds himself in space it should be a tough day at the office for Samoa’s defence. Flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano was Australia’s top point-scorer at the tournament four years ago in Japan and his kicking at goal will be vital to keep the scoreboard rolling. Duncan Paia’aua is kept at fullback, normally a midfielder, but he has excelled at the back with the extra time and space to attack.
Key RWC info
- The permutations in Pool D are enough to give a calculator a headache. With three wins from three, England have all-but qualified.
- Samoa, Japan and Argentina sit within a point of one another coming into this match.
- Japan have lost to England, but have yet to meet Argentina. Samoa have lost to Argentina, but have yet to meet England.
- This match will allow one side to steal a march on the others.
@Rugby365: Samoa by five points
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
Date: Thursday, September 28
Venue: Stadium de Toulouse
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT, Friday, September 29, 08.00 WST, Friday, September 29, 04.00 JST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)