Japan may have played and beaten Samoa in the last two Rugby World Cups before losing to the Pacific islanders in July in the Pacific Nations Series, but those games mean nothing as they head into Thursday's crunch Pool D game at Stadium de Toulouse.

The scenario is simple. Whoever wins in La Ville Rose retains a chance to make the quarterfinals. The loser may not even qualify for the next World Cup, a right that only goes to the top three in each pool.

"We are at a situation in the tournament where we actually have to fight and care for each other more than any other particular day," Japan defense coach John Mitchell said Wednesday at the match venue.

"It's not like any other test match. It's really important on both sides of the ball that we show heart and how much it means to us."

It was a message repeated by Naoto Saito and Lee Seung Sin, who will both start on the bench, though as Saito pointed out, the team remains calm ahead of the storm.

Japan's Naoto Saito is pictured at a press conference in Toulouse, France, on Sept. 27, 2023, ahead of the team's Pool D match against Samoa at the Rugby World Cup. (Kyodo)

"It is a very important game, a big game and a difficult game," the scrum-half said. "But as players we don't really feel any pressure. We trust the coaching staff and just need to implement the game plan."

That game plan will, in attack, revolve around making far better use of the opportunities that arose than in the win over Chile and the loss to England.

"We have to make sure we execute our opportunities when they present themselves," said Mitchell, a phrase that has been used by coaches and players alike since the defeat to England in Nice.

"In the English match, just after halftime, there was a period of play that was extremely unstructured where we were in the fight and we presented ourselves opportunities, and the biggest learning for us is we didn't execute (them)."

"We know this game will go up another physical step because that's a strength of theirs and something they are very proud of."

Samoa showed some of that physicality in their 19-10 loss to Argentina, but they were also very one-dimensional.

"They haven't shown a lot of kicking or counterattack, so they prefer to run and they will definitely try to take us one-on-one, and they have the ability, like all island sides, to offload," Mitchell said.

"Another area that is a strength of theirs is their ability to win momentum (from the set piece), so first-phase defense will be critical to our performance."

Head coach Jamie Joseph has resisted adding an extra forward to the bench to try and soak up the physical pressure Samoa will try to exert as Japan look to focus on their own performance.

Japan's discipline has been good to date -- they have conceded fewer penalties per game than any other side at just six -- and they will be hoping Rikiya Matsuda's 100 percent success from the kicking tee can continue whenever Samoa are pinged by the referee.

With the teams next to one another in the world rankings -- Samoa are 12th, Japan 13th -- the stage is set for a thriller.

And while Joseph and crew are reluctant to look back, there would be no harm in asking Michael Leitch, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki and Kotaro Matsushima to recall the 2015 World Cup.

As with this year's tournament, the Brave Blossoms were heavily beaten by a British side in their second game -- Scotland in 2015, England this year -- but they rebounded eight years ago in stunning fashion to beat Samoa 26-5, a game that they never looked like losing.

If Japan can show that same "fighting spirit," they will set themselves up for yet another do-or-die game against Argentina on Oct. 8.

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