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Leitch red card costs Japan in Samoa World Cup dress rehearsal

Japan admitted they would have to toughen up mentally ahead of the Rugby World Cup after losing to Samoa on Saturday following a first-half red card for veteran Michael Leitch.

Samoa edged the game 24-22 in Sapporo in what was a dress rehearsal for the two teams’ Pool D encounter at the World Cup in France later this year.

Japan took an early lead but suffered a blow when former captain Leitch was red-carded 10 minutes before the break for a dangerous tackle on Samoa’s So’otala Fa’aso’o.

Japan flanker Kazuki Himeno said it was “disappointing” that the Brave Blossoms could not shake off the mental effects of Leitch’s dismissal.

“We wanted to keep going without being too pessimistic about it but it did put a damper on our team’s morale,” he said.

“We couldn’t turn the tide.”

The New Zealand-born Leitch was playing in the city where he first lived after arriving in Japan as a 15-year-old.

But his involvement did not even last until half-time after he saw red for hitting Fa’aso’o high in the tackle.

Japan fly-half Lee Seung-sin tried to take the positives out of playing with 14 men.

“How we play with a man down isn’t something we can experience in training,” he said.

“We did everything we could in that situation and we did lose in the end, but it was a positive experience and in a sense we learned a lot.”

Japan and Samoa have been drawn together in Pool D at the World Cup alongside England, Argentina and Chile.

They face each other in Toulouse on September 28.

Japan staked an early lead after a try from debutant Amato Fakatava, who wriggled over the line in the sixth minute.

Samoa, who handed a debut to former Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano, came back into the match with tries from Alamanda Motuga and Jonathan Taumateine.

Japan stayed ahead through fly-half Lee’s boot, but another try from Samoa’s Tumua Manu in the 63rd minute turned the tables on the Brave Blossoms.

Japan reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time on home soil four years ago, and Leitch has said he believes they can win this year’s tournament.

Full-back Ryohei Yamanaka admitted that they had “challenges to overcome” if they are to make an impact.

“We want to prepare well,” he said.

“We will fix the problems from today’s game so that we can produce good results at the World Cup.”

Japan continue their preparations with another home Test match against Tonga next Saturday, before playing Fiji one week later.

Fiji score five tries to beat Tonga in season-opening Test

Fiji scored five tries to three to beat Tonga 36-20 on Saturday in the first Test match of the year for two countries that will compete in the Rugby World Cup.

Playing in their only home game before the global tournament, the Fijians delighted their supporters in Lautoka by racing ahead 19-0 after 12 minutes before withstanding a fightback from their Pacific neighbours.

The hosts registered an early penalty try and quickly extended that lead when captain Waisea Nayacalevu and Sam Matavesi crossed.

Tonga closed to within four points following tries to forwards Siua Maile and Halaleva Fifita, but Fiji pushed their lead to 26-15 at the interval when Josua Tuisova scored their fourth try.

The scoring dried up as heat-sapping conditions took their toll in the second spell.

Tongan back Kyren Taumoefolau scored his side’s only try of the second half before replacement Fijian scrum-half Peni Matawalu pushed the game out of reach with a late try off the back of scrum pressure.

Tonga, who beat Australia A last week, were missing some of their more prominent names such as former Wallabies outside back Israel Folau.

They face a daunting pool assignment when the World Cup kicks off in France in September, having drawn South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania.

Fiji are thought to have a stronger chance of advancing from a pool that also features Australia, Wales, Georgia and Uruguay.