When Japan take on Samoa in Toulouse in Pool D of the Rugby World Cup on Thursday, they will be up against a team that knows more than a thing or two about Japanese rugby.

Head coach Seilala Mapusua spent five years in Japan playing for Kubota Spears (as they were then called) and Kamaishi Seawaves, and is the uncle of Toyota Verblitz lock Isaiah Mapusua, while assistant coach Tom Coventry is part of the clan that produced former Verblitz player Richard and Hokkaido Barbarians stalwart Jamie.

And then there are the players, some of whom will have to put aside friendships and employment history in what is a do-or-die game for both teams.

"There are very good players and I have a lot of respect for my Japanese brothers playing in Japan," said hooker Sama Malolo, who played four Top League Cup games in 2019 for Suntory Sungoliath (now Tokyo Sungoliath). "I respect them, they play very well and play well for their country."

Malolo said he was really looking forward to playing against his former Sungoliath teammates, particularly Yutaka Nagare and Shinnosuke Kakinaga, and is aware of the danger they pose, saying, "The Japanese are very fit, very fast."

Combined photo shows Samoa fly-half Christian Leali'ifano (L) and scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine in action against Argentina during the Rugby World Cup Pool D match at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne in France on Sept. 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

Scrum-half Jonathan Taumateine, who like Malolo is a big fan of Japanese anime, is looking forward to catching up with Michael Leitch and hopefully getting a memento from the former Japan captain.

"We were at the Chiefs together and we still stay in touch," he said. "So hopefully he doesn't give away his jersey too early after the game."

Taumateine also had plenty to say about his fly-half Christian Leali'ifano, who spent a season each with Toyota Shuttles and NTT Communications Shining Arcs in the old Top League.

"It's good having him, it's good having someone with that much experience in him," the halfback said of the former Wallaby who qualifies for Samoa via the new ancestry rules. "He's a good leader for us and I think he's a big part of our team."

Both teams head into the game at Stadium de Toulouse knowing a loss would likely see their chances of reaching the knockout stage all but disappear.

Samoa players (in blue) react after their 19-10 defeat to Argentina at the Rugby World Cup Pool D match at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne in France on Sept. 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

And Argentina back-rower Pablo Matera, who plies his trade in Japan for League One side Mie Heat, thinks the Brave Blossoms have the edge, even though Samoa won 24-22 when the two teams met in July.

"I think Japan need to stick with their way of playing because they are playing really good rugby and they are moving the ball very quick," he said after the Pumas had beaten Samoa 19-10 on Friday.

"I'm sure that it's going to be very hard for Samoa to defend against a team like Japan that plays very fast rugby."

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