Japan boosted their quarter-final hopes with a hard-fought 28-22 Pool D victory over Samoa at Stadium de Toulouse on Thursday, ensuring England are the second team to qualify for the knock-out stages.
Tries from Pieter Labuschagne and Michael Leitch, as well as a penalty conversion and two penalties from Rikiya Matsuda, gave Japan a 17-8 lead at half-time.
Samoa captain Kazuki Himeno extended the lead on 50 minutes with a try, but Samoa responded with tries from Duncan Paia’aua and Christian Leali’ifano.
However, Japan held on for the win to secure a valuable five points.
Lomano Lemeki, who was named Mastercard Player of the Match, said of his return to the test team: “It is pretty unbelievable. I thought it was long gone but I got the call-up after the season – and half a chance is better than no chance, so I just ran with it and here I am again.”
Japan captain Himeno praised the Brave Blossoms’ support, saying: “I am really proud of the boys. The effort and hard work of everyone is what won us the game.
“We are always supported well, especially in these tough games. Without the fans’ support, we couldn’t achieve what we did tonight.”
Head coach Jamie Joseph admitted he was proud of his team for coping with the physicality of the Samoans, saying: “It was a really tough game and we had to work bloody hard to get the win. Hats off to the Samoan boys – they really took it to us.
“They [Samoa] are big fellas, aren’t they? They got on top of us at times and we had to really keep at it for the whole game. The commitment was certainly there but there were one or two things to work on for next week.”
Samoa captain Fritz Lee felt his side did not make the most of their opportunities in the game, saying: “The effort was there. Just the little things we didn’t capitalise on, the basics of the game. Japan were more clinical than us. We have to respect the ball more than we did tonight.
“Our penalty count didn’t help us, but the effort was there. We could have turned the game around at the end but we fell short.”
Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua believes his side will have to work on their tackle technique before taking on England, saying: “I’m really proud of the guys. The effort they put into the game, I couldn’t have asked for more. But it’s tough playing a game against 15 men and to be down a man with the red card. Unfortunate for Ben, it was just one of those contacts in the game.
“It is very concerning. We have got to be technically correct otherwise we will be punished. We have seen that in the last three games, but not just our games throughout the competition. We’re hopeful we can get it right next week.”