How Ireland can reach quarter finals after Japan beat Samoa

Rugby World Cup: Fourth try at the death against Samoa means hosts stay in control of Pool A

The clock had gone red at the City of Toyota Stadium when Samoa - trailing 31-19 - were penalised in the shadow of their own posts.

Should they call it quits and boot the ball into touch, or tap and try and carry their way out of trouble, in desperate search of a losing bonus point? Neither.

Instead captain Jack Lam opted for a scrum, at which his side conceded a free-kick for a crooked feed, handing the initiative back to Japan.

A few phases later the Brave Blossoms had scored in the corner through the electric Kotaro Matsushima, his try securing a 38-19 victory and with it a precious, perhaps priceless bonus point.

Maybe we will never know what was going through Lam’s head when he opted for that scrum, but there’s one thing we do know - Japan are now firmly in control of Pool A.

Their victory on Saturday morning leaves them on 14 points in top spot - three points clear of Ireland and nine clear of Scotland.

Gregor Townsend’s Scots currently sit on five points, after their loss to Ireland and a bonus-point win over Samoa. In order to guarantee their place in the quarters, they need to beat Russia and Japan with a bonus point, and prevent Japan from picking up two losing bonus points when they meet in Yokohama next Sunday.

Scotland can also qualify by beating Japan without a bonus point providing the hosts don't earn one themselves.

For the Brave Blossoms, they know two losing bonus points - one for scoring four tries, one for losing by seven points or less - against the Scots would be enough to secure top place in the pool.

In that scenario, they would finish on 16 points - which is the maximum number Ireland can also reach. During the pool stages, teams will be separated by their head-to-head record, rather than points difference.

This means that if Japan and Ireland finish level, the hosts finish above Schmidt’s side. By the same token, should Ireland fail to secure a bonus point against Samoa but still win the match - finishing on 15 points for the pool - they would finish ahead of the Scots, if they also pick up 15 points overall.

Providing Ireland can get the job done, all eyes will be on Yokohama next Sunday, as the flying Scots meet the Brave Blossoms. Both sides need to score four tries, so it could be open, fast and furious with both sides on the hunt for tries.

After that date - Ireland’s fate will be clear. The All Blacks or the Springboks in a quarter final, or an early flight home?

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times