Big-hitting Samoans overpower Japan
October 3, 1999
Silao Leaega breaks a Japanese tackle to score
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By producing a game of power and control Samoa not only beat Japan 43-9 but sent a message to Wales and Argentina that they are looking at repeating their victories of 1991 over the same two countries to send them through to the quarter-finals this year as group winners.
A banner in the crowd said "Island power. Hit 'em hard" and the Samoans used their physical presence and advantage to the full both in attack and in defence. As valiantly as the Japanese tried, Greg Smith in particular getting through a lot of work, the Samoans used their size to great effect constantly forcing the Japanese to commit two men to every tackle and putting in some big hits when the Japanese tried to run at them. The win reversed the result from the Epson Cup earlier this year.
After an early exchange of penalties between Silau Leaega and Keiji Hirose and an exchange of punches between Jamie Joseph and Craig Glendenning earning them yellow cards, Samoa followed up a quick tap and run by skipper Pat Lam from a penalty in the 22nd minute to set up good field position. The ball was quickly recycled and good running by To'o Vaega and Brian Lima resulted in the winger scoring the first try of the game.
Japan responded with a good run by Daisuke Ohata who showed how dangerous he can be when given space but the Japanese were making too many handling errors in what were very difficult conditions. They tended to either kick the ball away or keep it close in which played right into the hands of the Samoans.
Their cause was further hindered when Ohata had to move to fullback for Tsutomu Matsuda. Within two minutes Stephen Bachop had exploited the flying winger's positional naievity. Afato So'oalo followed up a long kick into space, toeing ahead before gathering the ball and passing onto Leaega for the fullback to score. Leaega added the extras and Samoa, with the elements in their favour, went into the break 18-6 ahead.
The second half continued in much the same way with another early exchange of penalties and both teams defying the conditions and trying to play attractive attacking rugby though all too often the final pass went astray. However, in the 60th minute the Samoans put together a set move in the backs and as the Japanese defence drifted towards Va'aiga Tuigamala the big centre popped the ball inside for So'oalo to score the first of his two tries, again converted by Leaega.
Four minutes later Lam went over after a flowing move from the Samoan 22 only for the try to be disallowed after the touch judge reported Brendan Reidy for punching Hiroyuki Tanuma as the Japanese player tried to interfere with the ball on the ground. Leaega added a further penalty but no matter how hard the Japanese tried they were unable to breach the Samoan defence. Andrew McCormick made a great break from outside his 22 only for Ohata to mistime his run from his unaccustomed position of fullback and a period of intense pressure on the Samoan line ended with Joseph getting isolated and holding onto the ball too long.
The Japanese had given their all but were by now noticeably tiring and in the final minutes of the game Lima and So'oalo added their second tries as the Japanese simply ran out of defenders.
The Samoans looked delighted at the final whistle to have started their campaign in such style. Pat Lam said "We only focused on this game. Half our team were missing when we played Japan earlier this year but that loss did us some good as we knew we could not underestimate them. Now we will focus on Argentina."
The Japanese team realised that this was their best chance of getting a win as they now have to face Wales and then Argentina who will also use their physical advantage to the full and like, Samoa, crowd their backline to prevent dangerous runners such as Terunori Masuho from getting any room. The weather obviously didn't help their cause but as McCormick said "it was the same for both teams. The Samoan defence was very strong and they put a lot of pressure on us. It's back to the videos to see where we can improve things."
Samoa then go into the game with Argentina full of confidence and with their players believing they can fulfill their captain's wish of getting beyond the quarter-finals. Japan gained a lot of friends with the way they kept going and absorbed the big hits but it would seem they are still not quite up there with the big boys.