TOYOTA CITY, Japan (AFP) – Hosts Japan conjured the samurai spirit to smash Samoa 38-19 yesterday and take a giant step towards a historic quarter-final spot at the Rugby World Cup.
Tries by Samoan-born Timothy Lafaele, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima helped make it three wins out of three for the Brave Blossoms, who returned to the top of Pool A.
Mercurial fly-half Yu Tamura scored 18 points on eight of 10 kicking to pace Japan, who added a bonus point through Matsushima’s try long after full-time to take control of their own destiny.
After beating Russia 30-10 and stunning Ireland 19-12 in their first two fixtures, the Japanese face Scotland next week in the biggest game in their history.
“We’ve got a really awesome opportunity to do something that’s never been done before,” said Japan coach Jamie Joseph.
“We understand how difficult next week’s going to be but we’ll be going out there without fear of losing.”
Samoa threw down the challenge before the game with their fearsome siva tau war dance on a cool night in Toyota.
But in the heartland of the ancient samurai warriors, it was Japan who showed the greater hunger and fight as the Pacific islanders made an early exit.
Tamura and Henry Taefu traded a handful of penalties in the early skirmishes before Lafaele scored the game’s first try just before the half-hour mark after swarming Japanese pressure.
With Samoa’s TJ Ioane in the sin bin for a late hit on local boy Tamura, Lafaele spotted a gap and crashed over to the joy of 45,000 fans at the Toyota stadium.
Samoa full-back Tim Nanai-Williams, cousin of All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill, went off with a head injury just before half-time after being smashed by James Moore – his failure to re-emerge a big miss.
“He copped a shoulder to the head and we lose a player again,” fumed Samoa coach Steve Jackson, upset that Moore escaped a yellow card.
“I’m probably as bewildered as most people are. Take nothing away from Japan but again we’ve lost a player to an HIA (head injury assessment) and nothing happens. I’m gutted for the players.”
Leading 16-9 at the break, Taefu’s boot brought Samoa to within four points before Tamura slotted a penalty of his own and Himeno bulldozed over after 54 minutes.
The crowd’s excitement reached fever pitch as Japan’s maul rolled on from a lineout and Himeno completed the job.
Samoa had won 11 of the 15 Tests played between the sides but it has been seven years since they last beat Japan.
Himeno’s try knocked the stuffing out of the Pacific islanders, who reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1991 and 1995 but have been cannon fodder for the bigger teams in recent tournaments. Taefu scored and converted a try that gave Samoa brief hope before Fukuoka added a late third try for Japan.
Then almost five minutes after the final gong, Matsushima darted over for his fourth try of the tournament to bring Japan a precious bonus point and give the scoreline a slightly flattering complexion.
“The bonus point may be the difference in the end,” smiled Joseph.
“Scotland are a very, very good team – they’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of X-factor,” added the former All Black.
“We always thought it was going to come down to the final game and it’s shaping up to be a real ripper!”
Samoa crashed out of the tournament after their opening 34-9 win over Russia was followed by a 34-0 drubbing by Scotland in their next game.
“We did well to turn it around after a good hiding against Scotland,” said Samoa captain Jack Lam.
“But at times it felt like we were playing against more than 15 people.”