Samoa v Japan preview: Japan try and try again
- Stephen Betham makes five changes after Samoa were thrashed by South Africa
- Kane Thompson returns from a two-match suspension for Samoa
- Kensuke Hatakeyama, Hitoshi Ono and Ryu Koliniasi Holani return to the Japanese pack
With third place presenting no tangible worth to Japan, who will qualify automatically for the next World Cup as hosts, another win here will help to swell the pride of a nation and announce their arrival on the international stage.
One win apiece for these teams marks this match as the potential decider for which of them will claim third spot.
With Scotland and South Africa set to take chunks out of one another immediately after this game however, the winner of this match could still have one eye on second place.
Samoa face the toughest test on their final match day as they face Scotland, and with Japan having eight days rest after this match prior to their showdown with USA, a win here for the Pacific nation is all the more vital.
Coach Stephen Betham has made five changes to the side that was ripped apart by the Springboks last weekend.
Lock Kane Thompson returns from a two match suspension for punching Australian hooker Saia Fainga’a, to play in his third Rugby World Cup.
Ole Avei and Faili Levave join the forwards at hooker and Number eight, while Tusi Pisi starts at fly-half and Jonny Leota marks his World Cup debut at centre.
Japan have made as many changes, with Kensuke Hatakeyama, Hitoshi Ono and Ryu Koliniasi Holani coming into the pack.
Kosei Ono steps in at Number 10, so Harumichi Tatekawa is switched to inside centre, while Akihito Yamada replaces Kenki Fukuoka on the wing.
Players to watch
In a game which is bound to be tight until the last, Samoa will look to veteran fly-half Tusi Pisi to be as clinical as possible and keep the points ticking over from his boot. The Pacific nation are the lowest scoring side in the Pool, and the third lowest in the whole competition thus far, and that will need to change if they are to bag a win here. Pisi also needs to score just 17 more points to become his nation’s highest ever scorer.
If Japan are to win the game through the heart of captain Michael Leitch and the boot of Ayumu Goromaru, it will be as a result of the ground work laid out by the forward pack. Few hit harder than Luke Thompson, with the big lock earning a tackle success rate of 91% across the games against South Africa and Scotland. Japan have already shown that they can be physical when needs be, and the New Zealand-born battering ram will do what he does best.
With all the excitement that has come before it, this game has all the hallmarks of another thriller for the neutrals. Samoa fought hard against Pool favourites South Africa but were absolutely blown away in the end. Their physicality counted for little in the end, and Japan have already proven that they can muscle it with the best. Both of these sides are capable of producing hard hitting, fast paced rugby, and with their World rankings currently at 11th and 12th respectively, there is very little to choose between these sides. Japan have however scored twice as many tries and whilst they have conceded one more, they have had longer to rest and recuperate this time, and we should witness a performance more akin to the Springbok surprise than the Scottish slaughter. The Brave Blossoms have beaten Samoa just three times in 14 attempts, but they are the form side heading into this one and can boast a 33-14 win from their previous encounter.
Japan by 5.
Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’I; 1 Sakaria Taualofo, 2 Ole Avei, 3 Census Johnston, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 5 Kane Thompson, 6 Ofisa Treviranus (c), 7 TJ Ioane, 8 Fafili Levave.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Vavae Tuilagi, 21 Vavao Afemai, 22 Mike Stanley, 23 Rey Lee-Lo.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 1 Keita Inagaki, 2 Shota Horie, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 4 Luke Thompson, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 7 Michael Broadhurst, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani,
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Justin Ives, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh
Date: Saturday, October 3
Venue: Stadium MK, Milton Keynes
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes, Stuart Berry
Television match official: Ben Skeen