GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – Japan goes into its final Pool B game Sunday knowing its hopes of a quarterfinal place at the Rugby World Cup have been dashed following Scotland’s 36-33 win over Samoa at St. James’ Park on Saturday.
In one of the most thrilling games of the tournament to date, a try by Samoan replacement prop Motu Matu’u two minutes from time set up a grandstand finish in Newcastle. But the Scots held on for the win and confirmed Japan would be playing for nothing more than pride when it takes on the United States in Gloucester.
Scotland finished the pool stage on 14 points, two behind South Africa, while the most Japan can get is 13 — providing it beats the Eagles and scores four tries in the process.
“Samoa were really long shots to win it and they gave it a good go,” Japan coach Eddie Jones told Kyodo News shortly after the final whistle blew in Newcastle.
“But it was something we anticipated and prepared for. What an achievement it will be if we become the first side to win three games at the World Cup and not progress.
“I just want us to show some real pride, and tomorrow is a great opportunity to win our third test match in the tournament.”
Earlier, following what has ended up being his team’s final training session of the tournament, Jones said that whatever happened at St. James’ Park, Japan would go out on Sunday at Kingsholm with the same intent.
“Our aim is to beat the U.S. and play really good rugby,” he said. “If we are playing for a spot in the quarterfinals or for the win it doesn’t matter. We won’t change our approach one iota.”
Jones said that the Eagles would be playing for pride, having not won at this tournament, and he was anticipating a tough game.
“They have one chance to redeem themselves in the World Cup and we have one chance to be remembered as the greatest-ever Japan team,” he said. “Motivation is important in the last game as players are physically tired and there are lots of players with little injuries.”
The Eagles have beaten Japan in their previous two World Cup encounters and most recently in the Pacific Nations Cup.
But as Japan center Craig Wing pointed out they will be going against a much changed Japan side — both in terms of personnel and mental attitude — from the one they beat in July.
“The win against South Africa added a lot of confidence and self belief. And when a team believes 100 percent in what they are doing, that is a very powerful thing,” he said.