The Japan rugby team leaves Sapporo knowing time is starting to run out on its Rugby World Cup preparations. The side also leaves knowing its 24-22 defeat to Samoa leaves more unanswered questions regarding its style of play.

Losing local hero Michael Leitch to a red card in the 30th minute did not help matters. But the high-speed Brave Blossoms attack that so delighted fans at the previous two World Cups hardly made an appearance.

Things started well with Amato Fakatava scoring a try and then putting in a powerful run upfield, while Dylan Riley put pressure on the visitors with some well-placed grubber kicks.

And toward the end, as things got desperate, the injection of young blood from the bench created a few attacking options.

But in between, there was little to write home about, and more worryingly, Japan's attack was all too predictable.

Lee Seung Sin and Rikiya Matsuda are both good, steady No. 10s, but they lack the "X factor" of the out-of-favor Takuya Yamasawa.

Shogo Nakano defended well but is clearly not an international inside center given his inability to kick, and there must also be concerns as to how easily Tumua Manu ran around Kotaro Matsushima to score Samoa's third try.

Head coach Jamie Joseph admitted there had been "difficult circumstances for Lee and Matsuda, so it's hard for me to comment on their performances."

He also, somewhat tellingly, made no other mention of the backs.

"I thought our forwards kept us in the game," he said. "They defended very well against a very direct and physical side. We put them under pressure at line-outs and that stopped their flow and that kept us in the game."

Despite being a man down for 50 minutes, Japan had 53% of possession. But once again, handling errors (12 in all) did not help the host's cause.

"The young guys did well and made an impact. The guys dropping the ball were the experienced players. In test matches, there is pressure, and we need to be better under pressure," Joseph said.

And it is not just the players and coaches who are struggling to regain the highs of 2019, when they reached the World Cup quarterfinals.

Off the field, the official attendance of 22,063 at a stadium with a capacity of 42,065 did not make for good viewing, with some fans complaining about prices — while the local union was upset that tickets only went on sale one month ago.

Perhaps appropriately, given Saturday's game was played in a city that hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, it may be worth recalling a quote by Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

"Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep."