It was a dramatic end to an engrossing encounter at the Toyota Stadium as exciting winger Kotaro Matsushima went over the line to give Japan the bonus-point they craved against Samoa.
It means that if they lose to Scotland by less than seven points next week and don’t concede four tries, they will qualify for the quarter-finals. Of course, the aim is to win the game which would mean they go through as group winners and the way Jamie Joseph’s men are performing right now, they have every chance.
This wasn’t as fluid as the display against Ireland, but they kept going right until the death and managed to secure the fourth try deep into stoppage time. Cheered on by a vociferous and partisan crowd in Nagoya, the team looked nervous early on but started to settle after centre Timothy Lafaele went over the line.
Freshening up their entire front-row, the Blossoms came our re-energized after the break and Kazuki Himeno added a second try to extend their lead. It was a much stronger Samoan side than the one that capitulated against Scotland, though, and they refused to give in, knowing that a defeat would knock them out of the tournament.
Just eight minutes were left to play when the brilliant Henry Taefu, scorer of all of Samoa’s points, went over which meant the Pacific Islanders were now within a converted score of drawing level. Japan, however, responded brilliantly, with player-of-the-match Lomano Lemeki steaming down the left to set up Kenki Fukuoka for a third try. The victory was all but safe, yet time was running out as they pushed for a bonus try.
With the buzzer sounding and Samoa in possession, it looked unlikely. The Pacific Islanders had nothing to lose so they decided to opt for a scrum on their own five-meter line rather than go for a kick. They were then penalized for a crooked feed to set up an opportunity for Japan.
After securing the restart, the Blossoms got the ball to Matsushima who dummied brilliantly, cut inside, and reached down for their fourth try. The stadium erupted as the hosts moved on to 14 points. One more is likely to be enough against Scotland.
Group A Set for Thrilling Finale
Scotland bounced back from their disappointing loss to Ireland as they produced a much-improved performance to beat Samoa 34-0. In the first half, they scored 17 points in just eight minutes to take the game away from their opponents and though there were many handling errors, partly due to the humidity, Stuart Lancaster was pleased with what he saw.
A fourth try sealed the bonus point and that’s what they will need again in the game against Russia. If they can then beat the Brave Blossoms by more than seven points in Yokohama next Sunday, they will be through. It’s set to be a tense, thrilling occasion.
Ireland also need a bonus-point win over Samoa to guarantee a place in the last eight, though any kind of win is likely to be enough given their points difference. They did what they had to do against Russia, scoring five tries to earn a bonus-point victory. The manner of the performance, however, will have given little encouragement to Irish fans who were hoping to see their side bounce back in style following their shocking defeat to Japan the previous Saturday.
They conceded 23 turnovers and six penalties against a Russian team fielding mostly part-time players. The Bears deserve a lot of credit for frustrating their opponents for long periods, but Ireland will need to up their game considerably if they are to have any chance against either South Africa or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
All Blacks and Springboks Strolling to Quarters
New Zealand and South Africa, though not mathematically assured of a place in the last eight, are all but guaranteed to reach the quarter-finals after relatively straightforward victories this week. Cheslin Kolbe was once again the standout player for the Boks, bagging two tries as they defeated Italy 49-3.
The game was effectively over as a contest after Andrea Lovotti saw red for a blatant tip tackle on Duane Vermeulen just after the interval. It came at a time when Italy were showing signs of getting back into the game. Any hope of that evaporated following the dismissal. South Africa went on to score seven tries in total. A bonus-point victory against Canada will be enough to see them through.
New Zealand, meanwhile, still look like the team to beat. They scored 134 points in their two games against Canada and Namibia this week, though, for the first 35 minutes at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium, Namibia held their own against the mighty All Blacks and even led for 185 seconds. Five minutes before the break, there was just one point between them. The African side won many new fans for their gutsy display.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said his side had “a poor attitude” in the first half. They were much more ruthless in the second, overpowering their opponents to record a 71-9 win. The margin of victory was one less than what they managed against Canada. The Barrett brothers (Beauden, Jordie and Scott) became the first sibling trio to start a World Cup game for New Zealand and all three scored a try.
England and France Book their Places in the Last Eight
England became the first team to officially qualify for the quarter-finals following a comprehensive win over Argentina. George Ford was the star man for Eddie Jones’ men as they ran in six tries against the South American side who were forced to play with 14 men for 63 minutes after Tomas Lavanini was given his marching orders for a high tackle on Owen Farrell. It was the fifth red card of the tournament – a World Cup record already.
England were never in any real danger after the dismissal. It was a well-controlled performance by a team that appears to be gaining momentum as the tournament heads to its latter stages. For the Pumas, who reached the semi-finals at the last two World Cups, it has been a disappointing competition. They huffed and puffed in this game but eventually tired themselves out.
The following day they were officially eliminated following France’s narrow win over Tonga. The Pacific nation fought back bravely in the second half and Zane Kapeli’s try with just under a minute to play reduced the deficit to two points. There was to be no repeat of the upset in 2011, though, as Les Bleus hung on to book their place in the last eight.
They were also sweating earlier in the week in their game against America, defending a three-point lead with just 15 minutes to play. It was a fantastic effort from the U.S. but in the end, the French side had too much for them, pulling away to earn a 33-9 win. It was a score-line that slightly flattered the tier one side. They will need to improve if they are to advance beyond the quarter-finals. Their game against England next week will decide the winners of Group C.
Comfortable Wins for the Wallabies and Fiji
It was another slow start for Australia who had two players sin-binned in the first half against Uruguay. As expected, they won the game easily in the end, but coach Michael Cheika is concerned about their sloppiness early on in matches, stating that he would have to get his “pre-match speech a little bit better.”
They will go through with a win over Georgia in the next game, while Uruguay take on Wales. Whatever the outcome, the South American team will always look back at this tournament fondly thanks to that giant-killing victory over Fiji.
The Fijian side recovered from that defeat with a convincing win over Georgia. They only had a four-day turnaround for that Uruguay game, so unsurprisingly looked much sharper this week, grabbing seven tries, six of which came in a very impressive second-half display.
The bonus-point victory means they are now strong favorites to finish third in the group which would mean automatic qualification for the 2023 World Cup. Both Fiji and Georgia could still mathematically get through to the knockout stages but that seems unlikely. It Wales next for Fiji, while Georgia take on Australia.