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Argentina Eliminates Japan from Rugby World Cup

Jamie Joseph's Brave Blossoms contributed mightily to a pulsating Rugby World Cup game in Nantes, but they were beaten 39-27 by a slick Argentina team.

GLASGOW ― On a day when winning was everything, Japan took second prize in its concluding Rugby World Cup Pool D fixture against Argentina, losing 39-27.

Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes, France, was packed with 33,624 spectators for the 1 PM kickoff local time (8 PM JST on Sunday, October 8). The game was played under clear blue skies.

In digesting the action, strategy, statistics and style of play pale into insignificance in a winner-take-all scenario like we were presented with on Sunday. The focus is firmly on being ahead on the scoreboard at the final whistle.

Going into the fixture, Japan had discussed its mindset.

Team director Yuichiro Fuji said, "Prop Keita Inagaki talked this week about how it's going to be 'Samurai Time' ― once we pull the sword out, it's going to be do or die," Fuji said, according to a report published by The Associated Press.

Eight tries were scored as the encounter, played at a breathtaking pace, unfolded in a highly entertaining fashion.

The main difference between the teams was Argentina left winger Mateo Carreras. The Pumas' No 11 scored three tries, which secured his team's passage to a quarterfinal meeting with Wales on Saturday, October 14.

Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph (ⒸSANKEI)

Joseph Coaches the Brave Blossoms for the Final Time

Departing head coach Jamie Joseph, who led the Brave Blossoms since 2016, had hoped to extend his Japan tenure by at least one more week. But after the action-packed 80 minutes he was left to reflect on a defeat that will hurt for a while.

"I guess as a coach you can't ask for much more," Joseph was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He added, "My boys gave everything, they are behind me breaking down crying. We conceded some soft tries, that's the hurting part, but it will go away with time."

Looking back on Japan's RWC campaign, Joseph expressed pride in his players' overall performance in France (two wins and two losses).

"Through really tough and difficult circumstances, they've been able to get to a stage at the World Cup they can be proud of," Joseph told reporters.

Argentina's Santiago Chocobares runs past Japan defenders en route to the first try of the match. (Stephane Mahe/REUTERS)

Argentina Grabs the Lead in the Second Minute

In any game of rugby, the goal is to set the tone right from the start. Seventy-three seconds into Sunday's encounter, Argentina did just that.

Center Santiago Chocobares cut through Japan's defense from 40 meters out. Some poor tackling attempts aided the score. An easy conversion from Emiliano Boffelli followed and Argentina had an early 7-0 lead.

Despite its efforts, Japan never did get in front on the scoreboard as the momentum swung back and forth.

Japan's Amato Fakatava rumbles across the goal line for a try in the opening half. (ⒸSANKEI)

The Brave Blossoms did draw level after 16 minutes through a memorable try. Lock Amato Fakatava galloped down the left flank, kicked over an Argentina defender then continued his lung-busting run.

Fakatava then collected his kick and crossed the goal line to score a spectacular try. Wingers score tries like that, lock forwards aren't supposed to possess skills like that.

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Yellow Card Costs Japan Midway Through Opening Half

With 22 minutes on the clock, Japan flanker Pieter Labuschagne was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on an opponent.

While Labuschagne was off the field, Carreras scored the first of his three tries in the 28th minute. A lightning counter attack from the South Americans saw Carreras released on the left wing by scrum-half Gonzalo Bertranou. There was no stopping the speed merchant as he scored in the corner. Boffelli blotted his kicking stats by missing the conversion.

Boffelli soon atoned for that miss by slotting a 35th-minute penalty. Argentina led 15-7.

Rugby World Cup
Japan flanker Pieter Labuschagne received a yellow card for this head-on-head collision with Argentina prop Thomas Gallo in the 23rd minute. Labuschagne sat in the sin bin for 10 minutes. (ⒸSANKEI)

Just before the end of the opening half, Japan got itself back into contention.

This time it was Brave Blossoms left winger Siosaia Fifita, who started the game in place of Jone Naikabula, lighting up the French afternoon. Fifita's mazy run drew the attention of the defense and at the right moment he passed to scrum-half Naoto Saito, who finished off the move.

Japan's Naoto Saito scores a first-half try. (ⒸSANKEI)

The closeness of the match was reflected by the halftime score. Argentina 15, Japan 14.

Points Continue to Pile Up After the Break

In a match that won't be remembered for the defensive abilities shown by both teams, the tries continued to flow in the second half.

Carreras finished off 16 phases of Argentine dominance with 45 minutes played. The forwards and backs worked perfectly in unison to suck Japan's defense into the middle of the field. This left Carreras unattended on the left and he collected the ball to double his try tally for the afternoon.

The Brave Blossoms' Lomano Lemeki attempts a long-range drop goal in the 56th minute against the Pumas. (KYODO)

A Rikiya Matsuda penalty and an audacious 40-meter drop goal from Lomano Lemeki kept Japan in touch on the scoreboard. With 25 minutes to play, Argentina led 22-20.

Boffelli would show he is just as good a finisher as fellow winger Carreras when he crossed the whitewash in the 58th minute. Argentina executed its wrap-around training ground move perfectly from a scrum and Boffelli was on hand to score in the right corner. The successful conversion gave Argentina a bit of breathing space. It now led 29-20.

Rugby World Cup
Jone Naikaula notches Japan's final try in the 65th minute. (KYODO)

Japan Pulls Within Two, but Carreras' Third Try Seals the Win

Japan was far from finished. Some concerted pressure and a quick tap penalty led to Lemeki putting Naikabula, now on as a replacement, away to score in the right corner. As he has done throughout this World Cup, Matsuda made the touchline conversion look easy. That cut the lead to 29-27.

The coup de grace would be delivered by Carreras, though. The finely balanced match had 11 minutes remaining when Boffelli made significant meters on the right wing. Argentina worked the ball across to Carreras on the left and the elusive winger darted in from 22 meters out. Once again Japan's tackling could have been better.

The try was converted and Argentina added a late penalty to complete the scoring. And the Pumas ran out 39-27 winners.

Ultimately, Japan's players did demonstrate the ancient Samurai culture they discussed before the match ― they put everything into the game. It just wasn't enough to prolong Japan's stay in France. 

Brave Blossoms players walk off the field after the match. (Stephane Mahe/REUTERS)

Post-Match Comments: Disappointment and Optimism for the Future

Reflecting on the match, team captain Kazuki Himeno said, according to Kyodo News, "This time we couldn't get to the top of Mount Everest … but I believe that Japan rugby will continue to grow."

Fly-half Matsuda continued by saying, "We really came close to winning and I'm frustrated not to win."

The talented number 10 added, "We've worked these past four years aiming to top the last-eight finish from the 2019 tournament. I believe we can go much, much further and we'll keep going with our eyes set on the four years ahead."

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Author: Colin Morrison

Morrison is a freelance sportswriter. Find his stories on SportsLook. Writing since 2016, Morrison's byline also appears on boxing website NYFights.com and multi-sports platform Spitballingpod.com. His main areas of interest are boxing, soccer, golf and rugby union. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on X (formerly Twitter) @Morrie1981.

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