Hosts Japan conjured the samurai spirit to smash Samoa 38-19 on Saturday and take a giant step towards a historic quarter-final spot at the World Cup.
Tries by Samoan-born Timothy Lafaele, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima helped make it three wins out of three for the Brave Blossoms, who returned to the top of Pool A.
Yu Tamura scored 18 points on eight of 10 kicking to pace Japan, who added a bonus point through Matsushima’s try long after full-time to take control of their own destiny.
Samoa threw down the challenge before the game with their fearsome “siva tau” war dance on a cool night in Toyota.
But in the heartland of the ancient samurai warriors, it was Japan who showed the greater hunger and fight as the Pacific islanders made an early exit.
Tamura and Henry Taefu traded a handful of penalties in the early skirmishes before Lafaele scored the game’s first try just before the half-hour mark after swarming Japanese pressure.
With Samoa’s TJ Ioane in the sin bin for a late hit on local boy Tamura, Lafaele spotted a gap and crashed over to the joy of 45,000 fans at the Toyota stadium.
Samoa fullback Tim Nanai-Williams, cousin of All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill, went off with a head injury just before half-time after being smashed by James Moore – his failure to re-emerge a big miss.
Leading 16-9 at the break, Taefu’s boot brought Samoa to within four points before Tamura slotted a penalty of his own and Himeno bulldozed over after 54 minutes.
The crowd’s excitement reached fever pitch as Japan’s maul rolled on from a lineout and Himeno completed the job.
Samoa had won 11 of the 15 Tests played between the sides but it has been seven years since they last beat Japan.
Himeno’s try knocked the stuffing out of the Pacific islanders, who reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1991 and 1995 but have been cannon fodder for the bigger teams in recent tournaments.
Taefu scored and converted a try that gave Samoa brief hope before Fukuoka added a late third try for Japan.
Then almost five minutes after the final gong, Matsushima darted over for his fourth try of the tournament to bring Japan a precious bonus point and give the scoreline a slightly flattering complexion.
After beating Russia 30-10 and then stunning Ireland 19-12 to top Pool A, Japan face Scotland next week in the biggest game in their history.
Samoa crashed out of the tournament after their opening 34-9 win over Russia was followed by a 34-0 drubbing by Scotland in their next game.
Villian of the match: Samoa Thomas Ioane. The flank received a yellow card for a late tackle and during his absence, Japan scored their first try.
Moment of the match: Kazuki Himeno scoring Japan’s crucial try in the 54th minute. From the back of a very organised driving maul, the No.8 went over the chalk and the crowd erupted.
Man of the match: Japan captain Pieter Labuschagne had a good performance, while wing Lomano Lemeki’s lethal runs got his team in the right areas. However, out nod goes to Japan No.8 Kazuki Himeno. The loose forward really impressed with his hard work, he was ruthless at the breakdown – making a couple of steals – and also scored a try.
Tries: Lafaele, Himeno, Fukuoka, Matsushima
Cons: Tamura 3
Pens: Tamura 4
Pen: Taefu 4
Yellow card: Thomas Ioane (Samoa, 24 – Foul play)
Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto
Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki
Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (captain), 6 Michael Leitch, 5 James Moore,
4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Kenki Fukuoka
Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Ah See Tuala, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Henry Taefu,
11 Ed Fidow, 10 Ulupano Seuteni, 9 Dwayne Polataivao, 8 Jack Lam
(captain), 7 Thomas Ioane, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Kane Le’aupepe, 4 Piula
Faasalele, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Seilala Lam, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 James Lay, 19 Senio Toleafoa, 20 Josh Tyrell, 21 Pele Cowley, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)