Rugby World Cup 2019: Japan know importance of victory over Samoa

Japan's stunning 19-12 victory over Ireland set them on course for top spot in their Rugby World Cup pool, but that hard-earned advantage would be largely undone, if they do not see off Samoa at the City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday.

Expectations have been raised significantly in the host nation, since their Irish success, not just because of the result, but also the accomplished way the side disposed of a team, who entered the tournament ranked No.1 in the world.

But with the euphoria comes an extra dose of pressure to maintain that standard, 
especially after the heartbreak of 2015, when the 'Brave Blossoms' became the only team in World Cup history to win three pool matches, but not advance to the quarter-finals.

Coach Jamie Joseph has made three changes to his starting line-up, including the return of squad captain Michael Leitch, who replaces Kazuki Himeno on the side of the scrum, as the latter switches to No.8 for the injured Amanaki Mafi.

Hooker Shota Horie, Man of the Match against Ireland, drops to the bench and is replaced by Atsushi Sakate, while Wimpie van der Walt takes over from Luke Thompson at lock.

"We're finding that test matches are very tight and there is so much pressure at the end of the match, it's crucial we have a strong bench," Joseph said.

"Shota Horie, who had a very good game against Ireland, played the whole 80 minutes. We like him coming on - another very good experienced player - so there's that balance."

Joseph believes there will be plenty of fire in the Samoan bellies, as they fight to stay in the tournament.

"They'll be hurting. They've had some tough times, but they are the sorts of things that usually bring the team tight together, so we're expecting a really physical and tough game."

Samoa's stuttering start to their World Cup has been largely self-inflicted, with an unconvincing 34-9 victory over pool minnows Russia, followed by a dismal 34-0 defeat to Scotland.

The Pacific Islanders have not been helped by four yellow cards so far in the 
competition and coach Steve Jackson joked he might have to cosy up to Saturday's referee, Jaco Peyper.

"We're going to take him out for dinner and then go to have a drink," Jackson told reporters.

Jackson added that the investment made by Japanese rugby in their national team should be a blueprint for other nations, such as Samoa, to follow.

"They've selected great coaches to run their national team and they've had massive support to what they're trying to do," he said. "Obviously, last weekend, you saw what it means for them. 

"They've got some world-class players in their squad and that doesn't happen 

Join us at 11:30pm Saturday for live updates of the Japan v Samoa Rugby World Cup clash