Japan sink Samoa to keep World Cup quarter-final hopes on track
Japan's hopes of reaching the World Cup quarter-finals remain very much alive after their extraordinary tournament continued with a resounding win over Samoa.
The Blossoms inflicted one of the greatest shocks in rugby history by beating two-time champions South Africa a fortnight ago and they upset the odds again, thrashing Samoa 26-5 at Stadium MK.
A penalty try and a score from Akihito Yamada ensured a commanding half-time lead and while Samoa managed a late consolation through Paul Perez, the result was already beyond doubt.
Japan will almost certainly need to beat the United States in their final group match to qualify, and may well need a bonus point too at Kingsholm, while Samoa's hopes of progress are all-but over.
Before this tournament, Japan had not won a World Cup match since 1991 and they have never made it past the pool stage in seven previous attempts.
Ousting the Springboks took its toll during a fatigued defeat to Scotland last week but Eddie Jones' side were back to their free-flowing best here, much to the delight of a crowd numbering just under 30,000.
Japan were assertive from the outset and thought they had the perfect start when full-back Ayumu Goromaru dived over in the corner, but referee Craig Joubert pulled play back for a forward pass.
An earlier infringement meant Goromaru was at least able to kick three points from the tee, his first of 16 points he chalked up during the match.
Samoa were rattled and their frustration turned to indiscipline as two players were handed yellow cards in the space of three minutes, the first to number eight Faifili Levave for a nasty challenge on Goromaru and the second to prop Sakaria Taulafo after he tackled Yamada in the air.
Down to 13, Samoa desperately defended their line but the resistance finally crumbled in the 23rd minute when Japan opted for the scrum over a kick and were rewarded with a penalty try after their drive to the line was illegally hauled down.
Goromaru added the extras and then three more to give Japan a 13-0 lead, as Samoa were restored to full-strength shortly before half-time but continued to fall foul of referee Joubert's whistle.
Japan were playing with more tempo, width and fluency and, with the final action of the half, they compounded their opponents' misery with a second try as Yamada twisted out of Alesana Tuilagi's tackle to leap into the corner.
Goromaru converted and extended the advantage to 23-0 early in the second period but Samoa were more competitive after the restart, aided by the introduction of Bristol flanker Jack Lam off the bench.
A heavy collision meant Japanese try-scorer Yamada had to be carried off on a stretcher shortly before the hour, and in the 64th minute Samoa hit their opponents with a superb counter-attacking try.
Quick hands from Ken Pisi and Reynold Lee-Lo kept the move alive and, before Japan could reorganise, Samoa span the ball out to the left where Perez was ready to dart over for an excellent finish.
Tusi Pisi missed the conversion and there was a third yellow card for Filo Paulo as Japan eased through the latter stages. It is a mark of their progress they were perhaps disappointed not to take a bonus point from another remarkable win.