The fairytale continues.

Following on from their heroics against South Africa, Japan outplayed Samoa in front of a record crowd at Stadium MK to claim their second victory at this World Cup and keep their hopes of a place in the quarter-finals alive. Not bad for a team who had only previously won one game at this tournament back in 1991 against Zimbabwe.

The 26-5 scoreline flattered a Samoan side that were ill-disciplined and barely threatened in the first half. Japan dominated possession from the off and were unlucky to be denied an early try after the killer pass in a slick move was adjudged to have gone forward. Ayumu Goromaru, who put the ball over the line, then scored a penalty to give Japan the lead.

Struggling against Japan’s pacy attack, the Samoan players lost their cool with Faifili Levave and Sakaria Taulafo being sin-binned. The Brave Blossoms pressed home the two player advantage to score a penalty try which was converted by Goromaru. He then put over another penalty to extend the lead. Eddie Jones‘ men could sense blood and went in for the kill with winger Akihito Yamada spinning around in the corner to score a try just before the interval. Goromaru’s excellent conversion meant that Japan were up by 20 at the break and it could have been even more.

Samoa showed more resilience in the second half and did manage to score a very well-worked try, but following two more penalties from Goromaru the damage was already done. Japan proved to the doubters that the miraculous victory over the Springboks was no fluke. They completely dominated against a side who had previously reached the World Cup quarter-finals on two occasions. The Brave Blossoms are still hopeful that they can get that far this time around, but they will have to beat the U.S. and hope that Samoa can do them a favor by beating Scotland next weekend. Based on the Samoans’ performance in Milton Keynes it seems unlikely; however, they are still a team capable producing scintillating rugby. Hopefully we will see it against the Scots.

Whatever happens next week the Japanese players and coaches will leave this tournament with their heads held high. They have so far achieved two remarkable victories and even in defeat to Scotland they were well in the game for 60 minutes before tiredness and some great rugby from the opposition got the better of them. In this competition they have gone toe to toe with tier one nations – a remarkable achievement for a side that has been routinely hammered at previous tournaments.

Former England star Jonny Wilkinson had this to say on Twitter: “Another inspiring example from Japan of how to play rugby. Huge congratulations and respect to you all. Keep it coming!!”

–Matthew Hernon

Image: Japan’s Ayumu Goromaru, Rugby World Cup