England qualify for World Cup quarter-finals as Pool D winners after Japan withstand late onslaught by 14-man Samoa to claim 28-22 win
- Japan’s victory means England are guaranteed to finish top of Group D
- Brave Blossoms awaits a showdown with Argentina for a place in the last eight
- Ben Lam was sent off for a nasty frontal tackle on Pieter Labuschagne
England have officially qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals as Japan’s victory here means Steve Borthwick’s side are guaranteed to finish top of Group D.
Michael Leitch scored two tries for the rejuvenated Brave Blossoms, who now face Argentina in Nantes on October 8 to decide which of them reaches the last eight, along with England, who take on Samoa in Lille the night before.
The Pacific Islanders will be without their wing, Ben Lam, who was sent off for an ugly, dangerous frontal tackle.
On this evidence, an English clean sweep in the round-robin stage is all but assured, even if Samoa grew in this match and finished strongly. They have plenty of physicality, a solid scrum and the agile brilliance of Saracens forward Theo McFarland in their arsenal, but they should not have enough creativity, pace and kicking pedigree to upset England.
Michael Leitch scored two tries for Japan in the hard-fought win over Samoa
Japanese flanker Pieter Labuschagne stretched past the last defender and scored in the first half
In contrast, Japan – which had woefully little momentum entering this tournament – appears to be regaining lost ambition and fluency.
Some of their attacking play last night offered a glimpse of the dazzling brilliance that lit up the latest global showpiece they presented in 2019.
Despite being forced to hang on at the end, Jamie Joseph’s team will now believe they can knock out the Pumas – knowing the prize would likely be a quarter-final clash with Wales in Marseille.
The Japanese took the lead in the 13th minute. After fullback Lomano Lemeki burst out of a tackle and went clear on the left, flanker Pieter Labuschagne stretched past the last defender to score. Eight minutes before half-time, Rikiya Lemeki went on the rampage again and Matsuda’s high pass sent Michael Leitch crashing into the left corner. Matsuda converted again.
Both teams were reduced to 14 men when first Jonathan Taumateine and Shota Horie committed errors, then just before half-time Seilala Lam touched down from a lineout drive to reduce the gap to nine points.
Early in the second half, Samoa wing Ben Lam was adjudged for a dangerous high tackle and following a review of the head collision, his yellow card was upgraded to red. Moments later, Japan kicked a penalty into the right corner and their rolling maul ended when Leitch landed again.
Another Matsuda penalty extended the deficit before Kotaro Matsushima cleared to score what would have been Japan’s bonus point try but it was disallowed for a foul in the build-up.
Samoa took advantage of their reprieve as Tumua Manu thundered through midfield and two slick handling contributions from McFarland set up a try for Duncan Paia’aua and Christian Leali’ifano converted from a wide angle.
Samoa wing Ben Lam was sent off for a dangerous frontal tackle on Labuschagne
Samoa rallied despite the red card, scoring a late converted try to earn a bonus point
Japan’s victory means England are guaranteed to qualify for the quarter-finals as winners of Pool D
But Japan regained control, advanced upfield and Matsuda hit another penalty to take the Far Eastern country’s lead with five minutes remaining.
Samoa would not go quietly, however, and there was still time for Leali’ifano to add a late converted try to give his side a bonus point, which was a deserved reward for their spirited resistance as they were reduced to 14 men.