Rugby World Cup Pool Stage Reaches Climax with Win-or-Bust Match between Japan and Argentina

Japan’s players bow in front of the fans after the end of the Rugby World Cup Pool D match between against Samoa, in Toulouse, France, on Sept. 28.

The lineup for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals will be complete after the final pool-stage games taking place on Sunday.

Fiji looks sure to be staying in France for the knockouts. The bigger question is which of Japan and Argentina will reach the last eight, too.

That’s undoubtedly the biggest game of the day, with a couple of hard-to-separate teams looking to set up a likely quarterfinal against Wales.

Japan and Argentina were beaten fairly comfortably by pool winner England, have battled past plucky Samoa, and easily dispatched Chile. Now they go head-to-head as Japan seeks to reach back-to-back quarterfinals and Argentina eyes getting back to that stage after missing out in 2019.

They are tied on points so it’s essentially a win-or-go-home game in Nantes.

Tonga and Romania are definitely going home and will meet in Lille, bidding for a first win in a desperately tough pool that contained South Africa, Ireland and Scotland.

Portugal bids farewell to the tournament against Fiji, which — excitingly for the neutral — still has plenty to offer in this Rugby World Cup.

JAPAN vs ARGENTINA (Argentina leads 5-1 overall, 1-0 in RWC)

The do-or-die nature of this match has made Japan channel the samurai attitude during training and their squad chats this week. In centuries gone by, these skilled warriors went into battle in a ‘kill or be killed’ scenario and prop Keita Inagaki referenced that this week.

“He talked about how it’s going to be ‘Samurai Time,’ where once we pull the sword out, it’s going to be do or die,” Japan team director Yuichiro Fujii said of Inagaki.

Japan coach Jamie Joseph is going with 14 of the 15 players who started the 28-22 win over Samoa, with Siosaia Fifita replacing Jone Naikabula on the left wing in the only change, whereas Argentina coach Michael Cheika had a bigger call to make.

He went with Santiago Carreras ahead of Nicolas Sanchez at flyhalf as part of the 11 changes from the 59-5 win over Chile last weekend.

Argentina is ranked higher than Japan (9 vs. 12) and has a slight edge in that if the result is a draw, the Pumas are likely to go through because they have a superior points difference. Of course, scoring four tries for an attacking bonus point could enter the equation.

TONGA vs ROMANIA (2-2 overall, first meeting at RWC)

These two teams are among the four yet to even pick up a point in this tournament, although that is sure to change for one of them.

Tonga and Romania have appeared in eight Rugby World Cups apiece and both have won at least one game in six of their pool-stage campaigns. For the Tongans, they have to go back to 2003 for the last time they failed to win a match in the tournament.

“Romania is the kind of team that doesn’t give up, whether you’re 40 or 50 ahead they are always going to keep coming at you,” Tonga prop Ben Tameifuna said. “Just like us, Romania’s going to be looking to finish this campaign on a bang.”

It has been a particularly chastening past month for Romania, which has conceded 82 points to Ireland, 76 to South Africa and 84 to Scotland. Tonga conceded an average of 51 points against those three teams.

“Anyone who was here would have suffered mentally after such defeats. We are trying to recover,” Romania forwards coach Mihăiță Lazăr said. “This is our chance to show that we know how to play rugby.”

FIJI vs PORTUGAL (Fiji leads 2-0 overall, first meeting at RWC)

Fiji has done all of the hard work. Now, in its Pool C finale in Toulouse, the Pacific Island nation just needs to take care of business against the worst team it will face at the Rugby World Cup to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, and just the third time ever.

Portugal, though, is capable of springing a surprise and playing exciting rugby, as shown in the thrill-a-minute 18-18 draw with Georgia last month — where it was so close to earning a first ever Rugby World Cup win — and the battling 34-14 loss to Australia last weekend.

A draw or any kind of win will see Fiji leapfrog Australia and likely finish second behind Wales. That would mean a quarterfinal against England, which it beat at Twickenham in the Rugby World Cup warmups.