Preview: Samoa v Japan

Date published: October 2 2015

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Samoa and Japan both know they must win Saturday's clash in Milton Keynes to keep their hopes of making the quarter-finals alive.

Each side has one win to their name after the first two matches and both came in Brighton, with Samoa getting the better of the USA a day after Japan caused the greatest upset in Rugby World Cup history by shocking South Africa.

Samoa were always expected to compete with Scotland for the runners-up spot in Pool B but Japan's win and the Scots' strong start with two bonus-point victories has made this group more of an open-ended proposition than we predicted. 

Stephen Betham's side were blown away by the Springboks – no surprise given it was South Africa's first game following that massive upset – in a 46-6 defeat that was unacceptable when you factor in that Samoa had a six-day rest and time to evaluate the talent in their squad.

Four years ago Samoa finished within seven points of Wales and South Africa in the group stages, thrashing Pacific Island rivals Fiji, which is why now expectations now are so high.

Adding in Tim Nanai-Williams at full-back gives them that extra level in attack, but combine him with the Pisi brothers and Kahn Fotuali'i's class at scrum-half and you have the most potent of backlines.

Having captain Ofisa Treviranus admit that "the boys didn't deliver on the field" is frustrating. Fiji are giving no side in Pool A an easy ride, as we saw again on Thursday against Wales, but for years Samoa have seemed like the best bet to trouble the game's top countries after their shock win over Australia back in 2011.

Off-field issues regarding funding have crippled their development but they are turning a corner off the field while on it, a first quarter-final since 1995 would go some way to proving Samoa are the real deal.

Japan on the other hand have already shattered expectations of what they can achieve with that glorious moment in Brighton – one which may prove to define this whole World Cup.

Something felt wrong therefore watching them run out five days later and instantly fade away after the clock passed 50 or so minutes, exhausted mentally and physically from the unmanageable task of facing two Tier One sides within such little time.

Scotland might have racked up the points on the scoreboard, but until Japan's legs gave way and they lost outstanding number eight Amanaki Mafi to injury they were right in the hunt.

Having now had ten days to recover Japan should more closely resemble the side who bruised South Africa's pride than the one we saw last Wednesday when they take on Samoa.

Mafi is crucially fit, although only takes a place on the bench, as Japan prepare for another physical challenge. They've been here before and succeeded.

Ones to Watch

For Japan: A welcome return for Hitoshi Ono sees him win a 96th cap for his country at the age of 37, a fantastic achievement for the durable lock. Asked how Ono had competed for so long, Eddie Jones pinned it down to the following: "He’s an incredibly tough player and that is why he’s picked. If you want a strong child make sure they get brought up on a dairy farm, deliver the papers every morning, drink 10 beers a night. You should do a documentary on longevity – milk, newspapers and beer." Say no more.

For Samoa: Stephen Betham has noticeably turned as much power as possible in his back row with fetcher Jack Lam left on the bench, and the added bulk of Faifili Levave at number eight will go some way to testing Japan's tackling late on. The former Hurricanes forward slots in at the back of the scrum and will be expected to carry a fair chunk of the workload in attack and defence.

Head-to-head: The two captains. Michael Leitch has already written his name into Japanese folklore after the win over the Boks, but the Chiefs forward packs an impressive engine and constantly seems to get over the gain line. The same can be said for Ofisa Treviranus, who only took over captaining Samoa earlier this year but has done little wrong since. Used across the back row, the flanker will be aiming to cancel out Japan's threat at the breakdown.

Previous results:

2014: Japan won 33-14 in Tokyo

2012: Samoa won 27-26 in Tokyo

2011: Samoa won 34-15 in Tokyo

2010: Samoa won 13-10 in Tokyo 

2010: Japan won 31-23 in Apia

Prediction: A full recovery time for the Brave Blossoms means we'll see a truer reflection of their ability after they folded against Scotland, but Samoa are yet to really let loose and had their pride dented against the Springboks. It may came down to goalkicking, with Goromaru up against Tusi Pisi, but Samoa have the slight edge. Samoa by 5 – but if Japan are still in the game with 20 minutes to go, watch out.

The teams:

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Justin Ives, 20 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Karne Hesketh

Samoa: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 TJ Ioane, 6 Ofisa Treviranus (c), 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Teofilo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Sakaria Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Jack Lam, 20 Vavae Tuilagi , 21 Vavao Afemai , 22 Mike Stanley, 23 Rey Lee-Lo 

Date: Saturday, October 3
Venue: Stadiummk, Milton Keynes
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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