Hello and welcome to Telegraph Sport’s coverage of tonight’s pool D clash between Japan and Samoa at the Stade de Toulouse.
Both Japan and Samoa come into this match with a win, a loss, and five points from two matches, with the latter ahead on points difference. With a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs, there is everything to play for.
Japan go their tournament under way by comfortably beaten Chile 42-12 before slumping to a 12-34 defeat against England after Steve Borthwick’s side pulled away late in the second half.
Despite the final scoresheet, The Brave Blossoms showed signs of their vigour and intensity of old as their efforts to play at high tempo were met by a stultifying England kicking game.
Having impressed at previous World Cups, most notably blowing away South Africa in 2015, Japanese rugby has hit something of a roadblock since the pandemic. In three years, their only victories came against Portugal, Tonga and Uruguay, although they ran both France and New Zealand close at home. And entering the World Cup, they had won one of their last 10 games.
But if their most recent performance is anything to go by, it would be a brave person to bet against these one-time giant slayers claiming at least one big scalp at this World Cup.
They come up against a Samoa side who marched over Chile to win 43-10 before losing 10-19 to Argentina in a hard-fought clash.
Samoa have won 13 of the 17 previous meetings between the two sides – including a 24-22 victory in Sapporo two months ago. But Japan won the three previous matches – including fixtures in the pool phases of the last two Rugby World Cups.
Samoa have been bolstered at this World Cup by the relaxation of eligibility rules which have allowed a number of star players, such as former Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano, to represent their native country.
A win tonight could help them on their way to reaching the knock-out stages for the first time in 28 years, while Japan are seeking a second successive last-eight place.
Not that either side’s destiny is entirely in their hands. Argentina, sitting one point behind in Pool D and with a game in hand on both Japan and Samoa after this match, will be paying close attention. They won’t want to miss out on the quarter-finals for a second tournament in a row.