Japan’s Victory Keeps Quarterfinal Dreams Alive at Rugby World Cup 2023

Japan’s battling 28-22 win over Samoa on Sept. 28 at Stadium de Toulouse kept alive their hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup.

      A win against Argentina in Nantes on Oct. 8 – or even a draw if Japan were to grab a four-try bonus point and Argentina were unable to do the same – would see Jamie Joseph and his team travel down to Marseilles to take on the winners of Pool C, most likely Wales.

     “That’s our Grand Final, isn’t it?” Joseph said immediately after the win. “We have got an opportunity to play a tier one team we have played a few times before. All the guys are going to be really excited for that – it is a big game for us.”

     Tries from Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne and Michael Leitch helped the Brave Blossoms to a 17-8 lead at halftime.

     Kazuki Himeno made sure all three starting back-row forwards got on the scoresheet when he crossed in the second half, before Samoa mounted a spirited comeback, despite a red card to Ben Lam.

     In the end, Japan”s defense held out as they made it three wins over Samoa in the past three World Cups.

     The scrum-half was a late call-up to the bench after vice-captain Yutaka Nagare withdrew on the day of the game.

     One player who had double reason to celebrate was Kenta Fukuda.

    Fukuda, who plays his club rugby for Toyota Verblitz, took to the field with five minutes to go, making him the first Japan player to make his international debut at a Rugby World Cup since Kim Chul-won in 2007.

    “At this stage of the Rugby World Cup, I’m happy to have this opportunity to get on the field,” he said. “The last-minute call was a bit of a surprise, but every week I was clear with what we needed to do so my preparation hasn’t changed.”

TOULOUSE, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 28: Lomano Lemeki and Naoto Saito of Japan embrace at full-time following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Japan and Samoa at Stadium de Toulouse on September 28, 2023 in Toulouse, France. (Photo by Pauline Ballet – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

     “There was a bit of pressure at the end of the match, but that’s test rugby and after all, I’m happy that the team managed to get the win.”

     Japan skills coach Riki Flutey said Fukuda’s call-up was fully deserved.

     “He’s been another star performer in our non-member group and really putting pressure on the coaches and his opposites to give an opportunity,” Flutey said.

     “He got an opportunity at the weekend and it was only a few minutes but it was a special moment for him. He’s a talented player. He’s got different attributes, he’s an attacking threat around the rucks and his skillsets are really good as well.”

     Japan remain in their base camp of Toulouse until Oct. 5, when they travel to Nantes to take on Argentina.

     The Pumas’ 59-5 win over Chile on Saturday lifted them above Japan on points difference in Pool D.

     But Flutey said the Brave Blossoms had been lifted by the win over Samoa and would head into the final Pool D game in a confident mood.

     “We know Argentina are an awesome team. They have one of the best defensive stats in world rugby,” Flutey said,

     “So we know it will be tough. We have a lot of confidence coming out of the Samoa game, going into Argentina. It’s really a final for us. It’s given us an opportunity, if we win this game to go through to the quarterfinals.”


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