Kenki Fukuoka, center, and his Japanese teammates celebrate after beating Ireland in the Rugby World Cup Pool A match. Photo: AFP / The Yomiuri Shimbun

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Tournament hosts Japan go into this weekend’s Rugby World Cup clash with Samoa as favorites after winning their last two meetings.

But after the heartbreak of missing out on the quarter-finals four years ago, the Brave Blossoms know there is still work left to do.

After beating Russia 30-10 and then stunning Ireland 19-12 to top Pool A, Japan will be hoping to take a giant step against the Samoans.

“We will be hoping to target the bonus point,” winger Kotaro Matsushima, mindful that Scotland loom in their final group fixture, said. “But first we have to make sure we get the job done and win the game.”

Samoa began with a comfortable 34-9 win over Russia but were hammered 34-0 by Scotland in their next game.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph insisted that will make the Pacific islanders dangerous opponents in Toyota on Saturday.

‘Hurting’

“They lost their game against Scotland and they’ll be hurting,” the former All Black star said. “They’ve had some tough times but they’re the sorts of things that usually bring the team tight together, so we’re expecting a really physical and tough game.”

Talismanic leader Michael Leitch returns to Japan’s back row after being dropped to the bench against Ireland.

That news clearly riled the Kiwi-born flanker, who played like a man possessed when he came on after 30 minutes in Shizuoka.

Pieter Labuschagne retains the captaincy after an impressive first outing as skipper but Joseph insisted Leitch was still the leader in the dressing room.

“Michael is still our team captain – there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But the first reason why we put Michael on the bench last week is we really focused on him getting his rugby right – and it worked particularly well.”

Atsushi Sakate starts at hooker and Wimpie van der Walt comes in at lock as coach Jamie Joseph makes three changes.

“Obviously Samoa will come out firing because they are playing to stay in the tournament,” Joseph, who has considerable bench strength in the likes of Shota Horie and Fumiaki Tanaka, said.

“We feel that extra experience at the end of the game is going to be crucial.”

Victorious

Samoa have won 11 of the 15 Tests played between the sides but it has been seven years since they last emerged victorious.

They have also been shown four yellow cards in their first two games.

“We can’t afford to play 40 minutes over the last two games with only 14 or 13 men and expect to be out there and win games,” coach Steve Jackson said. “We’ve just got to be smarter in the decisions that we make when we don’t have ball in hand.”

But Jackson has a cunning plan to beat Japan – wining and dining referee Jaco Peyper. “We’re going to take him out for dinner,” he joked. “And then go to have a drink.”

– AFP

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