TOYOTA, 4 Oct – A preview of the Pool A match between Japan and Samoa, which kicks off at 19:30 on Saturday at City of Toyota Stadium.
The Big Picture
Two wins out of two. Nine points from a possible 10. Japan could hardly have hoped for a better start to the campaign, although as hosts, they would still deem it a failure if they did not reach their pre-tournament target of the quarter-finals.
Coming into the World Cup on a wave of confidence following their breakthrough victory over South Africa at RWC 2015, Japan took another Tier 1 scalp on 28 September, beating Ireland in a rapturous Shizuoka.
Yet the Brave Blossoms have been here before, winning three matches in England four years ago but failing to progress. The words of the players as they prepare for Samoa illustrate they are more than aware that a defeat could mean trooping the short distance to their homes before the knockout stages have begun.
Japan will have to beat Samoa and Scotland to be sure of a quarter-final place in Tokyo. First up are the Pacific Islanders who will be fighting to keep their hopes alive in Toyota following a demoralising defeat by Scotland.
"They had some tough times but these are the sorts of things that usually bring the team tight together, and so we're expecting a really physical and tough game," said Japan coach Jamie Joseph.
Samoa succumbed to Japan 26-5 in their third pool game this time four years ago. They know they have at least one area that needs to be put right in order to compete against the hosts.
"Our discipline from now has to be extremely good," coach Vaeluaga Steve Jackson said after his side received four yellow cards in two games. "We can't afford to play 40 minutes over the last two games with only 14 or 13 men and expect to be out there and win games."
Form guide (most recent matches first)
Played 15 – Japan 4W – Samoa 11W
In the spotlight
Japan's James Moore made 24 tackles without a miss against Ireland, a record for Rugby World Cup 2019 to that point, and starts for the third straight game having played every minute of the last two. He will be partnered by Wimpie van der Walt, who started in the opener against Russia and returns to the XV after nailing all of his five tackles against the Irish.
"We've been working on our physicality, especially on our defence for the last couple of years," said Moore. "This year it stepped up to a whole other level at Miyazaki camps and Abashiri and I think we really showed our physicality at PNC (Pacific Nations Cup) and at the start of the World Cup."
Luke Thompson made 19 as three second-rows combined for 48 perfect tackles against Ireland, but the 38-year-old misses out with injury, Uwe Helu making the bench for the first time.
"Each of them offers slightly different skill sets," Joseph said. "It's important to have hunger and competition for positions and that'll put pressure on coaches, which is fine."
Pieter Labuschagne remains as Japan's game captain after fellow flanker and team captain Michael Leitch, pictured above, is recalled to start, with Joseph saying "minimising (Leitch's) responsibility so he can focus on his own game ... is crucial if we're going to go on in the tournament".
Veteran hooker Shota Horie is on the bench after being named the Player of the Match against Ireland, giving Atsushi Sakate his first World Cup start. Flanker Hendrik Tui is back on the bench while Amanaki Mafi misses out after hurting his rib against Ireland.
Prop Keita Inagaki, Leitch and wing Kotaro Matsushima started in the win over Samoa four years ago.
For Samoa, TJ Ioane and Tim Nanai-Williams are the only survivors of the starting XV from that game as they make six changes from the defeat against Scotland.
Loose-head prop Jordan Lay, second-row Piula Faasalele, fly-half Ulupano Seuteni, hooker Seilala Lam and Ah See Tuala all make their first starts of the tournament. Tusi Pisi, who has just returned to Japan to play his club rugby, drops to the bench.
Stats and Trivia
The last time Samoa beat Japan was in Tokyo in 2012. The match finished 27-26, with Japan scoring more tries (four) than Samoa (three).
"We definitely are the team most used to playing under high humidity. Leaders in the team proposed last week to put some soap on the ball and practise, which was immediately shot down by Jamie. He said we don't have to do such things, we've been preparing all the way back from February and should trust in our own skills." - Michael Leitch
"I have played here before and I played against Japan in the last World Cup and what they bring is a good quality football team. From one to 15, they are all top quality. One player that I'm really familiar with is the captain Michael Leitch. I played with him in the Chiefs and he's definitely a player to watch out for. He leads from the front, he leads by action, so if we could stop his momentum we will get a long way in this game." - Tim Nanai-Williams