TOULOUSE, France — Samoa shook up its back row and midfield for the must-win Rugby World Cup match against Japan on Thursday.
Japan limited its changes to two backs after losing to England 34-12 last week in Nice.
After falling to Argentina 19-10 last week, Samoa gave starts on Tuesday to New South Wales flanker Taleni Seu and Lyon No. 8 Jordan Taufua in place of Theo McFarland, who was moved to the second row, and Steven Luatua, who was dropped to the reserves.
“What I bring is a bit of energy and a bit of physicality,” Taufua said. “Everyone knows how I play and the type of person I am. I thrive off of big challenges and what a way to go out in front of the Toulouse crowd and the people of France. I’ll get out there and do my thing. The good thing (for us) is we have someone like Steven Luatua to come on with all his experience.”
D'Angelo Leuila will partner Tumua Manu in midfield. The only other time they combined was in July last year against Tonga.
Ed Fidow takes over from Nigel Ah-Wong on the right wing.
Japan promoted outside center Dylan Riley and fullback Lomano Lemeki from the bench. They replaced Tomoki Osada, who dropped to the reserves, and Semisi Masirewa, who suffered a tournament-ending leg injury against England.
Lemeki replaced Masirewa in the sixth minute against England and played well enough to convince coach Jamie Joseph to give him a first start since October 2021.
“He played well for us when he came in to a difficult game, for a player who hasn’t played that level of rugby for quite some time,” Joseph said. “I thought he did a really good job. We have a lot of confidence he can do that again.”
The winner of the Japan-Samoa match will stay in contention for the quarterfinals while the loser's chances of advancing from Pool D will all but disappear. Japan has had five extra days to prepare.
In the last round of pool games, Japan faces Argentina, and Samoa plays England.
“In this death zone, we knew this was coming,” Japan captain Kazuki Himeno said. “It is going to be a tough one but we are prepared and confident. We had some time to get refreshed, so it works well for us."
Samoa beat Japan 24-22 in July in Sapporo during the Pacific Nations Cup. Despite a 30th-minute red card for Michael Leitch, Japan led until just after an hour thanks to the unerring boot of Seungsin Lee.
Lee wasn't so accurate from the tee in following games and he was replaced as the starting flyhalf. But he's come into the reserves and could make his Rugby World Cup debut.
“We have opted not to have a specialist 10 on our bench for different reasons. But we think this game is a test match built for Seungsin,” Joseph said. “Like any young 10s, one bad game doesn't make him a bad player, they just have to get the opportunity to put it right, and he has shown a lot of growth the last few weeks on how he has gone about preparing for his game. I think the game is going to be tight and it will take the whole 23 to get the result.”
Japan: Lomani Lemeki, Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Ryoto Nakamura, Jone Naikabula, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno (captain), Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch, Amato Fakatava, Jack Cornelsen, Gu Jiwon, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Atsushi Sakate, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Warner Dearns, Kanji Shimokawa, Naoto Saito, Seungsin Lee, Tomoki Osada.
Samoa: Duncan Paia'aua, Ed Fidow, Tumua Manu, D'Angelo Leuila, Ben Lam, Christian Leali'ifano, Jonathan Taumateine; Sa Jordan Taufua, Fritz Lee, Taleni Agaese Seu, Theo McFarland, Chris Vui (captain), Paul Alo-Emile, Seilala Lam, James Lay. Reserves: Sama Malolo, Jordan Lay, Michael Ala'alatoa, Steven Luatua, Alamanda Matavao, Melani Matavao, Neria Foma'i, Danny Toala.