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Fullback Lemeki to make rare start for Japan against Samoa

Lomano Lemeki will make a first start for Japan in almost two years as one of two changes to their side for the Rugby World Cup Pool D fixture against Samoa in Toulouse on Thursday, a fixture both need to win in their bid for a quarter-final place.

Lemeki comes in at fullback for Semisi Masirewa, who was forced off early in the 34-12 loss to England in their previous game.

Coach Jamie Joseph has made a second backline switch as Dylan Riley takes over from Tomoki Osada at outside centre, but the remainder of the team is unchanged.

Replacement flyhalf Seungsin Lee will make his World Cup debut if he comes off the bench and will hope to repeat the 17 points he scored against Samoa in Japan's 24-22 defeat in July.

Wings Jone Naikabula and Kotaro Matsushima make up the back three with Lemeki, while Riley will partner Ryoto Nakamura in the midfield.

Flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda has a 100% success rate off the kicking tee in the World Cup and has scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare alongside him.

Hooker Shota Horie packs down with props Keita Inagaki and Jiwon Gu, Jack Cornelsen and Amato Fakatava are the lock pairing, and flankers Michael Leitch and Pieter Labuschagne are alongside number eight and captain Kazuki Himeno.

Horie, Inagaki, Leitch and Matsushima complete a rare treble having also played against Samoa at both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

These two sides have met 17 times before with Japan winning five, though three of those have been in the last four clashes.

Japan have been the most disciplined team in this year’s tournament, conceding only six penalties on average per game.

Japan team: 1-Keita Inagaki, 2-Shota Horie, 3-Jiwon Gu, 4-Jack Cornelsen, 5-Amato Fakatava, 6-Michael Leitch, 7-Pieter Labuschagne, 8-Kazuki Himeno (capt.), 9-Yutaka Nagare, 10-Rikiya Matsuda, 11-Jone Naikabula, 12-Ryoto Nakamura, 13-Dylan Riley, 14-Kotaro Matsushima, 15-Lomano Lemeki

Replacements: 16-Atsushi Sakate, 17-Craig Millar, 18-Asaeli Ai Valu, 19-Warner Dearns, 20-Kanji Shimokawa, 21-Naoto Saito, 22-Seungsin Lee, 23-Tomoki Osada. REUTERS