By Justin Palmer
MILTON KEYNES, England (Reuters) – Japan rekindled the belief and the fire that helped them stun South Africa to crush rudderless and ragged Samoa 26-5 on Saturday and stay in contention for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
A dominant performance from Eddie Jones’ side left the Brave Blossoms with hope of reaching the last eight for the first time as they head into their final Pool B match against the United States next Sunday.
Refreshed from a 10-day break after defeat by Scotland, Japan showed that their opening victory over the Springboks was no flash in the pan, with their forwards more than a match for the big but disorganised Samoans.
“Our forwards were fantastic, they shut Samoa out of game,” Jones said.
“Their set-piece dominance, work around the ruck in attack and defense was first class. Test match rugby is all about scrummaging. Our dominance today set the path for victory.”
Jones, who said his team selection had been wrong against Scotland four days after pulling off the biggest upset in World Cup history, named Japan’s most experienced side ever for their third pool match.
The changes paid off. With quick recycled ball and smooth handling in the backs another feature of their play, Japan deservedly led 20-0 at halftime.
The majority of the points stemmed from Samoan indiscipline, which was routinely punished by referee Craig Joubert and the boot of fullback Ayumu Goromaru.
Joubert’s patience with the Pacific Islanders was already wearing thin — having ordered forwards Faifili Levave and Sakaria Taulafo to the sin bin in quick succession — when he awarded Japan a penalty try after 23 minutes for yet another indiscretion in the scrum.
Samoa, who felt the full force of a Springboks backlash in a 46-6 defeat last week, barely got out of their own half in the opening 40 minutes. They had little time with the ball and, one burst from Tim Nanai-Williams apart, offered no real attacking threat.
The pressure from Japan told again just before halftime, when right wing Akihito Yamada spun and launched himself over the line in the corner, with Goromaru kicking a difficult conversion.
Samoa, knowing their quarter-final hopes would evaporate with a defeat, had to go for broke after the break but there was little change in momentum.
Japan were all over their frustrated opponents in the set piece and used the ball more intelligently. Goromaru, meanwhile, showed why he is the leading scorer in this tournament, slotting over the penalties to put the game out of sight.
The loss of concussed try scorer Yamada was a blow to the red and whites but they never let up and Samoa’s only try, from centre Paul Perez, was little consolation for Stephen Betham’s well-beaten side.
Betham was left to rue the indiscpline that he said cost Samoa from the start.
“You can’t play footie with 13 on the pitch,” he lamented. “We could not get on the front foot and Japan played well and took their chances.”
(Editing by David Goodman)
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