Rugby World Cup: Japan keep quarter-final hopes alive with hardfought pool win over Samoa

Japan have taken a big step towards reaching the quarter-finals for the second successive World Cup with a 28-22 win over Samoa, sending Pool D leaders England through to the knockout stage in the process.

Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch and Kazuki Himeno scored tries, and 13 points from the boot of flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda gave the 'Brave Blossoms' enough breathing space to hold off a late fightback from 14-man Samoa.

The Samoans had a try on the board from Seilala Lam, before winger Ben Lam was sent from the field in the 47th minute, but two more from Duncan Paia'aua and Christian Leali'ifano in the final quarter were not enough to overhaul Japan.

Japan celebrate Michael Leitch's try against Samoa.
Japan celebrate Michael Leitch's try against Samoa. Photo credit: Getty Images

Japan moved out of a tie with Samoa into second place in the pool, behind England, with nine points. The result also confirmed unbeaten England as pool winners.

Both teams came into the match with one win from two games and the early exchanges were even, until Japan struck in the 14th minute.

Making his first test start for two years, fullback Lomano Lemeki bounced off a couple of tackles down the left wing to drive deep into the Samoa half and flanker Labuschagne barged over the line from close range.

Samoa dominated territory and forced Japan into a lot of tackles, but got no penetration from their backline and emerged with only an Alai D'Angelo Leuila penalty from a long period in the red zone.

Matsuda stroked over a penalty in the 28th minute to continue his flawless performance from the tee at this World Cup and in Japan's next attack around the half-hour mark created a try.

Japan went through phases close to the Samoa line, when Matsuda lofted a looping cutout pass out to Leitch on the left wing, leaving the former captain with a clear canter to the line.

Matsuda nailed the conversion to give Japan a 17-3 lead and Samoa suffered a second blow, when scrumhalf Jonathan Taumateine was sin-binned.

Japan were also reduced to 14 men three minutes before the break, when Shota Horie was sent to the sin-bin, and Samoa took immediate advantage, rolling hooker Seilala Lam over the line for a try to cut the deficit to 17-8 at halftime.

The yellow card for a high shot by winger Lam early in the second half allowed Japan to reply in kind in the 49th minute, with skipper Kazuki Himeno emerging from the pile of bodies to claim the try.

Matsuda missed his first kick of the tournament from the conversion, but the news was worse for Samoa, with referee Jaco Peyper confirming Lam's yellow card had been upgraded to a red.

Another Matsuda penalty in the 56th minute extended the lead to 25-8, but Samoa hit back six minutes later with a try from fullback Duncan Paia'aua, after the Samoan forwards again took a direct approach.

Former Wallabies flyhalf Leali'ifano added the extras and skipped across the line for a converted try of his own two minutes from time, but Japan held on for their third successive win over Samoa in the World Cup. 

Japan 28 (Labuschagne, Leitch & Mimeno tries; Matsuda 2 conversions & 3 penalties) Samoa 22 (Lam, Paia'aua & Leali'ifano tries; Leali'ifano 2 conversions, Leuila penalty)


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