There’s a lot at stake when Japan face Samoa at Stadium de Toulouse on Thursday. Two sides’ quarter-final hopes are on the line in a ferociously tight Pool D, in which a single point separates second from fourth, with a third nation watching in the wings.
Both Japan and Samoa 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 has made two changes to his starting XV from their 34-12 loss against England, with Dylan Riley replacing Tomoki Osada in midfield and Lomano Lemeki coming in for Semisi Masiresa at full-back.
Opposite number Seilala Mapusua has made four changes to his starting XV from the 19-10 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 Rugby World Cup 2027 in Australia – becomes just as important.
FIXTURE: Japan v Samoa
GROUND: Stadium de Toulouse (33,103)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
Samoa have won 13 of the 17 previous meetings between the two sides – including a 24-22 victory in Sapporo two months ago. Japan, however, had won the three previous matches – including fixtures in the pool phases of the last two Rugby World Cups.
A week shy of exactly four years ago, Japan beat Samoa 38-19 in Toyota to sit at the top of Pool A and on the brink of quarter-final qualification after three rounds of RWC 2019. Two late tries, from Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima, gave them not only the win, but a try-scoring bonus … and sent fans in the stadium wild.
KEY TALKING POINT
Three into one doesn’t go. 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.
Shota Horie v Seilala Lam. Experience counts in the front row – and Japan’s Horie, a veteran of four World Cups, has plenty of it. Opposite him, Lam is now into his second tournament, who had a strong outing in the loss to Argentina last time out.
In 2015, Japan became the first team to win three matches in the pool phase of a Rugby World Cup yet fail to qualify for the knockout rounds. They made sure of a historic place in the quarter-finals as hosts four years later, topping Pool A with victories against Russia, Samoa, Ireland and Scotland.
Jaco Peyper (South Africa). A statistic for defence coaches to note. Peyper has, to date at this Rugby World Cup, whistled against defences 27 times, and 12 times against attacking sides.
JAPAN Lomano Lemeki; Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Ryoto Nakamura, Jone Naikabula; Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Jiwon Gu; Jack Cornelsen, Amato Fakatava; Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno (captain)
Replacements: Atsushi Sakate, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Warner Dearns, Kanji Shimokawa, Naoto Saito, Seungsin Lee, Tomoki Osada
SAMOA Duncan Paia’aua; Ed Fidow, Tumua Manu, Alai D’Angelo Leuila, Ben Lam; Christian Leali’ifano, Jonathan Taumateine; James Lay, Seilala Lam, Paul Alo-Emile; Chris Vui (captain), Theo McFarland; Taleni Junior Agaese Seu, Fritz Lee, Sa Jordan Taufua
Replacements: Sama Malolo, Jordan Lay, Michael Alaalatoa, Steven Luatua, Alamanda Motuga, Melani Matavao, Neria Fomai, Danny Toala