Jamie Joseph praised Japan’s “never-say-die attitude” after two late tries clinched a bonus-point victory over Samoa, leaving them on the brink of creating history.
The tournament hosts moved back to the top of Pool A courtesy of a 38-19 triumph on Saturday, Kenki Fukuoka crossing in the 76th minute before Kotaro Matsushima touched down after the gong.
Matsushima’s score was unbeaten Japan’s fourth of the contest and moved them on to 14 points in the table, meaning they can win their group for the first time at a Rugby World Cup by beating Scotland next weekend.
“I’m really proud of our team, especially at the end,” Joseph said after the dramatic finish.
“There was a never-say-die attitude, and we knew it was going to be a real physical battle and Samoa did not let us down. They were quite impressive given they had played a Test just four days ago.
“But, at the end of the day, the belief in our team has grown. I guess we will need that going into next week.
“Our preparation was good. We had a longer week, so a lot of talking and a lot of thinking. It was a very different week than preparing for Ireland.”
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Scotland face Russia prior to the crucial meeting with the Brave Blossoms in Yokohama, who may well find a bonus point in defeat to Gregor Townsend’s side is enough to send them through to the last eight.
“I think our focus is to go out there and win the match – then things will take care of themselves,” Joseph said on the scenarios for the final pool match.
“For the first time ever, Japan have put themselves in a position where they can top the pool. It’s new territory for us.
“We go game by game. We will enjoy this win, then get back on the horse for what will be a really tough game against Scotland.”
Japan flanker Pieter Labuschagne thanked a raucous home crowd at City of Toyota Stadium, with the support spurring the home team on to a late surge that could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
“It was hard work out there, it took us a long time. They’re a quality side and showed it in the first half. Luckily in the last minute we got through for the bonus-point try,” he told ITV Sport.
“There are a lot of leaders in this side, it makes it a lot easier. It’s taking it moment for moment and trying to make the best call at that time.
“This crowd is truly amazing, especially the last 10 minutes, they dragged us through – they’ve been absolutely wonderful.”