Japan notch up their third successive win in Pool A, but the World Cup hosts leave it late to grab the bonus point against a Samoa team that went down fighting in Toyota


2019 Rugby World Cup: Japan 38-19 Samoa

Played – 16

Japan wins – 5

Samoa wins – 11

Did You Know?

  • Kotaro Matsushima scored his eighth Test try of 2019 – an unrivalled figure.
  • Henry Taefu’s 19 points is the third-highest individual tally by a Samoan at a World Cup. The record is 23 by Silao Leaega against Japan in 1999.
  • The Lam brothers, Jack and Seilala, started together for the first time in a World Cup.
  • Yu Tamara leads the points chart at Japan 2019 with 40 points.
  • This match was the most watched sports event of the year in Japan, averaging at 32.8% of the population and peaking at 46.1%.
  • Samoa are the fourth side to exit the tournament after Russia, Georgia and Uruguay.
  • Japan’s Toru Kurihara is the only player to score more than 50 points in a Test. The wing racked up 60 against Chinese Taipei in 2002 through six tries and 15 conversions.

Related: Rugby World Cup Fixtures

In a nutshell

The Japan roadshow rolls on, this bonus-point victory in Toyota keeping the host nation bang on track for an historic place in the quarter-finals.

Kotaro Matsushima’s try after the gong had sounded gave the Brave Blossoms the fourth try that could yet prove critical in what is a fascinating three-way Pool A battle with Ireland and Scotland. Samoa, much improved here, are out.

It was a nervous affair, with Japan never quite shaking Samoa off despite leading for all but ten minutes of the match. Yu Tamura’s two early penalties were cancelled out by Henry Taefu and there was only one score between the sides at the break, Samoan-born centre Timothy Lafaele crossing on the left after a coruscating run by Matsushima had caused the damage. Samoa never really coped with the winger all match.

The extraordinary ruck efficiency that we saw from Japan in their victory against Ireland was absent this time, with Samoa clearly targeting aggressive clear-outs as a means to disrupt the hosts. And Japan’s discipline was ragged too, especially at the breakdown; they conceded ten penalties having conceded just 12 in their first two matches put together.

Samoa were also culpable and flanker TJ Ioane, who has had a fine tournament, blotted his copybook with a late, no-arms hit on Matsushima that saw him yellow-carded.

Samoa coach Steve Jackson applauded sarcastically as Jaco Peyper brandished the card, but he could have no complaints. Jackson’s mood didn’t improve when Tim Nanai-Williams was obliged to go off for an HIA having collided with James Moore as the Japan lock attempted a charge-down. It yielded a soft penalty that Taefu slotted to reduce the arrears to seven.

Japan rugby supporters

Rugby fever: Japan’s great start to the tournament has captured the nation’s imagination (AFP/Getty)

After Japan turned round 16-9 ahead, Taefu and Tamura exchanged penalties before the second try arrived on 53 minutes, Japan No 8 Kazuki Himeno scoring from a driving maul.

Yet Samoa refused to lie down. When lock Kane Le’aupepe precipitated a series of goal-line thrusts by carrying forcefully off a lineout, Taefu was on hand to finish. His conversion took his personal points tally to 19 – before this match he had only scored three Test points.

Samoa again trailed by seven with eight minutes remaining and Japan’s hopes of gleaning a bonus point were ebbing away. But Kenki Fukuoka – their try-scorer against Ireland – was neatly put over by Lomano Lemeki and then, after Samoa resisted a huge lineout drive by Japan in which almost every home player piled in, came a twist.

Samoa won a free-kick from the scrum and could have ended the match but they chose to take a scrum on their line and then conceded a free-kick themselves. Japan elected to scrum and, initially denied a penalty try on safety grounds as they thundered forward, they worked Matsushima in on the left for the bonus-point try.

Japan have now matched their three wins at RWC 2015 and in all probability they will have a four-point lead over Scotland – yet to play Russia – when the teams meet next weekend in Yokohama. What an occasion that will be.

Related: Rugby World Cup TV Coverage

Japan and Samoa walk out

Sharing the love: the teams inadvertently create a heart shape as they walk onto the field (Getty Images)

Star man

A tough one because Japan’s back-rows Pieter Labuschagne and Kazuki Himeno were excellent, their locks James Moore and Wimple van der Walt put in huge shifts defensively, and Lomano Lemeki was very busy, making 15 carries. on the left wing.

But Kotoro Matsushima gets the nod for us for his eye-catching running. His break teed up the position for the opening try and he finished skilfully at the end to secure the bonus point. He carried for 110 metres and was undoubtedly the biggest running threat on the pitch.

Kotaro Matsushima scores for Japan

Bonus time: Kotaro Matsushima scores Japan’s fourth try as the hosts returned to the top of Pool A (Getty)

The reaction

Japan coach Jamie Joseph: “I’m really proud of the team, especially at the end there. That was a never-die attitude. We knew that was going to be a real physical battle and Samoa never let us down. They were impressive, particularly because they played a Test four days ago. We were ready for a spirited performance from Samoa but they really took it to the next level.

“Even today, the belief in our team has grown and I guess we’ll need it going into next week. It’s the first time ever Japan’s got themselves in the position where they can top the pool so it’s new territory for us.”

On the growing pressure on Japan: “I’ve got to put everybody straight. We’ve got a really awesome opportunity to do something that’s not been done before. No one thought we could beat Ireland and now they think we can win every game we play. That’s how silly it is.”

Kenki Fukuoka scores for Japan

Skirting round: Kenki Fukuoka scores Japan’s third try with just five minutes remaining (Getty Images)

Japan No 8 Kazuki Himeno: “We’ve finished in the best way possible. Getting the bonus point will be a turning point and I am relieved we got it. Samoa were a strong side but the fans here and watching across the country with television pushed at our backs. It was the greatest feeling. We want to win all the games to reach the last eight.””

On his tackling that forced turnovers: “I’m always intent on producing a piece of play that turns dangers into chances, so I’m glad to have made two of them.”

Samoa coach Steve Jackson: “What an amazing crowd – 40,000 people and I think 39,500 of them were Japanese supporters. It’s deafening. We tried to go out there and silence the crowd by getting points on board. At times we did that but we just failed to capitalise. Look at the crowd – you can hear it now – and it’s just great to be part of this atmosphere.

Samoa perform the Siva Tau

Cultural challenge: the Samoa players perform the Siva Tau prior to the match in Toyota (Getty Images)

“Japan were deserved winners. We had opportunities here to really put some pressure on it that game and unfortunately we didn’t come out with the win.”

On TJ Ioane’s yellow card, and losing Tim Nanai-Williams following an HIA: “I agree TJ’s (tackle) was late. But it was shoulder to the chest, then it is shoulder to the head (against Nanai-Williams) and we lose a player after the HIA. I don’t take away anything from the Japan side but our players deserve better than that.”

“Henry (Taefu) was outstanding. He took over kicking duties but, not only that, his carrying too. He’s been a shining light, as Seilala (Lam) was tonight. I’m proud of their efforts.”

On Samoa’s final game, against Ireland next Saturday: “We’ve got nothing to lose now, have we? Playing against Ireland – again, what an opportunity for us to beat one of the top teams in the world. We’ll throw everything at it. We’re just going to go out there and enjoy it.”

Samoa captain Jack Lam on choosing a scrum on their line in the final seconds: “I thought our scrum was doing well at the time and we back our team to score from anywhere.”

The Teams

Japan: Ryohei Yamanaka (Kenki Fukuoka 56); Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura (Rikiya Matsuda 69), Lomano Lava Lemeki; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare (Fumiaki Tanaka 62); Keita Inagaki (Isileli Nakajima 51), Atsushi Sakate (Shota Horie ht), Jiwon Koo (Asaeli Ai Valu 51), Wimpie van der Walt (Uwe Helu 67), James Moore, Michael Leitch (Hendrik Tui 63), Pieter Labuschagne (capt), Kazuki Himeno.

Tries: Lafaele 27, Himeno 53, Fukuoka 75, Matsushima 80. Cons: Tamura 3. Pens: Tamura 4.

Samoa: Tim Nanai-Williams (Kieron Fonotia 40); Ah See Tuala (Tusi Pisi 51), Alapati Leiua, Henry Taefu, Ed Fidow; Ulupano Seuteni, Dwayne Polataivao (Pele Cowley 65); Jordan Lay (James Lay 63), Seilala Lam (Ray Niuia 56), Michael Alaalatoa (Paul Alo-Emile 56), Piula Faasalele (Senio Toleafoa 56), Kane Le’aupepe, Chris Vui, TJ Ioane (Josh Tyrell 69), Jack Lam (capt).

Try: Taefu 72. Con: Taefu. Pens: Taefu 4.

Yellow card: Ioane 24.


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