Japan boosted their quarter-final hopes with a hard-fought 28-22 Pool D victory over Samoa at Stadium de Toulouse, ensuring England are the second team to qualify for the knock-out stages.
Pieter Labuschagne went over to give Japan the lead before his fellow flanker Michael Leitch popped up on the wing to add a second, as Samoa’s scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine was yellow-carded.
But when Japan’s hooker Shota Horie followed him into the sin-bin, his opposite number Seilala Lam was driven over to reduce Samoa’s deficit to 17-8 at half-time.
Captain Kazuki Himeno’s try extended the lead on 50 minutes after winger Ben Lam was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle, which was upgraded to red. Duncan Paia’aua and Christian Leali’ifano scored tries to set up a thrilling finale but Samoa had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Meanwhile, England has reached the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup thanks to a Japan win over Samoa which boosted the Brave Blossoms’ own knockout chances.
Japan saw off the Pacific Islanders with tries from Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch and Kazuki Himeno, along with strong kicking by Rikiya Matsuda.
Samoa, who had winger Ben Lam sent off, rallied late on but must now beat England for a chance of progressing.
But this result means England cannot be overtaken at the top of Pool D.
Samoa can no longer match their current total of 14 points, while Steve Borthwick’s men have a superior head-to-head record over Japan and Argentina.
It removes the pressure from England’s final pool game, against the Samoans on 7 October, and means Borthwick could rest players for that game before a likely quarter-final against Fiji.
2023 Rugby World Cup Pool D table, featuring England in first, Japan second, Samoa third, Argentina fourth and Chile fifth
Both nations went into this game in Toulouse with a realistic chance of qualifying from Pool D – but only if they won.
Japan, seeking a second successive last-eight place, started the stronger and scored from their first major attack on 13 minutes.
Lomano Lemeki drove into space, bouncing off two Samoan defenders before being held up five metres out. The ball came to Labuschagne who bundled over.
Following an exchange of penalties, Japan appeared to take control of the match as they scored their second try and Samoa had a man sin-binned within a matter of seconds.
Jonathan Taumateine was yellow-carded for a tackle off the ball in the build-up to Leitch extending Japan’s lead, as they shifted the ball out to the left again and were too quick for Samoa.
This sprang Samoa – who have not reached the knockout stage in 28 years – into life.
After the game was made 14-men apiece when Japan hooker Shota Horie was sin-binned, Samoa’s own number two Seilala Lam touched down following a giant maul.
But the Pacific Islanders were their own worst enemies. In the opening minutes of the second period, Ben Lam was given a yellow card for an upright tackle and nasty clash of heads – which was later upgraded – before Kazuki Himeno scored following a Japan maul.
Samoa gave themselves hope and a losing bonus point through Duncan Paia’aua and Christian Leali’ifano tries, but Japan held out via Matsuda’s reliable boot.
Japan, who are aiming to repeat their performance as hosts four years ago when they reached the knockouts, face what looks likely to be a winner-takes-all meeting with Argentina on 8 October.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/BBC SPORTS/PACNEWS