CARDIFF (Reuters) - Japan’s Rugby World Cup fate could already be decided before they take on the United States in their final Pool B match in Gloucester on Sunday, but if Samoa throw them a lifeline they will be ready to grasp it.
Scotland’s two bonus points mean they will claim second place in the pool with a win over the Samoans on Saturday, sending the Brave Blossoms home whatever the result of the final match of the opening round (kickoff 1900 GMT).
A first trip to the knockout stages would be seen by many neutrals as appropriate reward for the stunning upset of South Africa and trouncing of Samoa but even if they fail to progress, Japan have already achieved one of their campaign goals.
As hosts of the 2019 World Cup, the first to be held outside one of the major heartlands of the game, Eddie Jones’s team needed to restore the pride of Japan as a rugby nation as well as raise the profile of the game back home.
With a record 25 million Japanese tuning in back home for their win over Samoa, the latter can already be said to have been achieved.
Departing with three wins out of four would be plenty to be proud of but first they must beat a United States side desperate to secure a victory before they head home.
The United States may have lost all three of their pool matches so far but beat Japan 23-18 in the Pacific Nations Cup in July and have won both of the previous World Cup meetings between the countries in 1987 and 2003.
“We’ve got to go out there and play our best rugby, play with physical and mental intensity,” Jones said after the Samoa match.
“History won’t mean a thing but if we don’t do that, history will repeat itself. So it’s all got to do with how we prepare for the game.”
Jones has handed a World Cup debut to 35-year-old center Craig Wing in one of four changes to his side from the victory over Samoa, with Justin Ives also coming into the starting line-up in the second row in place of Hitoshi Ono.
United States coach Mike Tolkin has brought back his first choice side after his second string were humbled 64-0 by South Africa on Wednesday with fullback Chris Wyles restored to the captaincy.
Japan: 1-Keita Inagaki, 2-Shota Horie, 3-Hiroshi Yamashita
4-Luke Thompson, 5-Justin Ives, 6-Michael Leitch (captain), 7-Michael Broadhurst, 8-Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 9-Fumiaki Tanaka, 10-Kosei Ono, 11-Kotaro Matsushima, 12-Craig Wing, 13-Harumichi Tatekawa, 14-Yoshikazu Fujita, 15-Ayumu Goromaru
Replacements: 16-Takeshi Kizu, 17-Masataka Mikami, 18-Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19-Shinya Makabe, 20-Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21-Hendrik Tui, 22-Atsushi Hiwasa, 23-Karne Hesketh
United States: 1-Eric Fry, 2-Zach Fenoglio, 3-Titi Lamositele, 4-Hayden Smith, 5-Greg Peterson, 6-Al McFarland, 7-Andrew Durutalo, 8-Samu Manoa, 9-Mike Petri, 10-AJ MacGinty, 11-Zach Test, 12-Thretton Palamo, 13-Seamus Kelly, 14-Takudzwa Ngwenya, 15-Chris Wyles (captain)
Replacements: 16-Phil Thiel, 17-Oli Kilifi, 18-Chris Baumann, 19-Cam Dolan, 20-John Quill, 21-Danny Barrett, 22-Niku Kruger, 23-Folau Niua
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Editing by Justin Palmer