Japan clinches win, bonus point vs. Samoa

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TOYOTA, Japan — Japan is a step closer to Rugby World Cup history after overcoming a ferocious Samoa challenge 38-19 with an immense effort of its own. The tournament hosts claimed a possibly crucial bonus point four minutes into additional time in a nerve-shredder on Saturday.

Japan now has won three out of three games in Pool A and has only Scotland between it and a first place in the quarterfinals for an Asian team. That would set off a party of epic proportions in Japan.

It should be noted that Japan won three pool games at the last Rugby World Cup and still missed out on the quarterfinals — to Scotland.

That last pool game will be enormous. Japan leads Pool A with 14 points, three clear of Ireland. Scotland has two games remaining and is on five points. Samoa and Russia are already out of contention.

Japan scored its first three tries against Samoa through center Timothy Lafaele, No. 8 Kazuki Himeno and replacement Kenki Fukuoka, the star in the shocking win over Ireland. His try sealed victory against Samoa with five minutes to go.

But star winger Kotaro Matsushima’s bonus-point score in the last play of the game — and four minutes after the clocked went to 80 minutes — could be the most crucial in the final reckoning.

Samoa tested Japan’s nerve and commitment at every stage and home team met the challenge at a raucous City of Toyota Stadium.

Japan made Samoa pay for a yellow card to flanker TJ Ioane when Lafaele scored near the left corner in the first half. Himeno grounded in a Japanese rolling maul early in the second.

Samoa set up a thrilling finish when center Henry Taefu spun out of a tackle and went over after a period of Samoan pressure. He converted for 26-19 with seven minutes to go.

Japanese nerves were jangling among the near 40,000 in the stands — the biggest crowd in the City of Toyota Stadium so far at the World Cup.

Japan responded by turning over possession from the restart, surging to within a meter, and then sending Fukuoka in from an overlap way out on the right corner for the game-clincher.

Matsushima’s try might be the quarterfinal-clincher and came after Japan gave up possession and Samoa had a scrum on its own five-yard line. Japan summoned one more thrust from its outstanding forwards and won possession back with a free kick. Japan scrummed again, and eventually moved the ball left to the short side, where Matsushima slipped through a half gap and had enough momentum to go over.

The roar might have taken the roof off the City of Toyota Stadium if it had been closed.

World Rugby postponing July test matches

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World Rugby has postponed July test matches involving southern and northern hemisphere nations because of ongoing restrictions on international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s international governing body issued a statement Friday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.

New Zealand had been scheduled to play Wales and Scotland, Australia was set to play Ireland and Fiji and South Africa had planned to host Scotland and Georgia. World Rugby said the postponement is due “to ongoing government and health agency COVID-19 directives.”

Bill Beaumont re-elected as World Rugby chairman

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Former England captain Bill Beaumont has been re-elected as World Rugby chairman on Saturday after beating Agustín Pichot, the current vice-chairman.

The sport’s governing body says the 68-year-old Beaumont achieved a first-round majority of 28 votes to 23.

Beaumont says: “I am honored to accept the mandate of the World Rugby Council to serve as the international federation’s chairman once again.”

He begins his four-year term after a council meeting on May 12.

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte becomes Beaumont’s new vice-chairman.