Japan picked up their second win of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, beating a 14-man Samoa 28-22 on Thursday, which gives their knockout hopes a boost.
With Argentina expected to claim five points against Chile over the weekend, the Brave Blossoms will then face Los Pumas in a winner-takes-all showdown.
Samoa are subsequently out of the running for the knockout stages, with this their second defeat out of three games ahead of facing England on October 7.
Japan, who reached the last eight for the first time four years ago as hosts, opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Lappies Labuschagne stretched over in the corner and Rikiya Matsuda converted.
A penalty from D’Angelo Leuila got Samoa, without captain Chris Vui through a late change, on the board, but Matsuda’s kick soon restored Japan’s advantage.
Michael Leitch added another try in the corner before Samoa’s Jonathan Taumateine was sent to the sin bin after a shoulder barge in the build-up.
Japan hooker Shota Horie was then shown a yellow card for making head-on-head contact as he stood up in a challenge with Seilala Lam, which went to the TMO for a bunker review but was not upgraded.
Samoa – whose final pool match with England is in Lille next weekend – made the most of their man advantage, Lam touching down following a driving maul to go into the break trailing 17-8.
Samoa soon found themselves a man down when Ben Lam was sent to the sin bin after the TMO spotted a high tackle into the side of Labuschagne’s head.
Japan extended their lead as Kazuki Himeno was driven over in the corner, but the usually reliable Matsuda failed to convert.
Things then got worse for Samoa when Lam’s card was upgraded to a red before Matsuda again found his range to push Japan further in front at 25-8.
Kotaro Matsushima sprinted clear for what Japan thought was a bonus-point try, but it was ruled out for the slightest of knock-ons from Dylan Riley in the build-up.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 28, 2023
Samoa, though, kept themselves in touch as Duncan Paia’aua went over in the corner, which Leuila converted from a tight angle only for fly-half Matsuda to push Japan clear again with another long-range penalty.
The 14 men battled on and pulled the deficit back again when Christian Leali’ifano dived over and then converted his own try, but Japan held out to set up a potential winner-takes-all clash with Argentina in Nantes.
Japan: 15 Lomano Lemeki, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Dylan Riley, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Jone Naikabula, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Naoto Saito, 8 Kazuki Himeno (c), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Amato Fakatava, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Kanji Shimokawa, 21 Kenta Fukuda, 22 Seungsin Lee, 23 Tomoki Osada
Samoa: 15 Duncan Paia’aua, 14 Ed Fidow, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 D’Angelo Leuila, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Christian Leali’ifano, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Sa Jordan Taufua, 7 Fritz Lee (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Theo McFarland, 4 Steven Luatua, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Seilala Lam, 1 James Lay
Replacements: 16 Sama Malolo, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Brian Alainu’u’ese, 20 Alamanda Motuga, 21 Melani Matavao, 22 Neria Fomai, 23 Danny Toala
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (NZR), Craig Evans (WRU)
TMO: Marius Jonker (SARU)