Leitch returns for Japan's World Cup clash with Samoa

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Toyota City (Japan) (AFP)

Japan coach Jamie Joseph on Thursday made three changes to the starting side who stunned Ireland for this weekend's Rugby World Cup Pool A clash with Samoa.

The hosts, who toppled the Irish last week, have recalled talismanic leader Michael Leitch as they look to make it three wins out of three against the Pacific islanders on Saturday in Toyota.

Despite Leitch's return, openside flanker Pieter Labuschagne retains the captain's armband after an impressive first run-out as skipper against Ireland.

Atsushi Sakate comes in as starting hooker for the Brave Blossoms and Wimpie van der Walt at lock, while veteran Luke Thompson has been left out of the match 23.

Shota Horie drops to the bench after his man of the match display against Ireland when Japan produced the shock of the tournament by winning 19-12.

Winger Kenki Fukuoka, who came on to score Japan's only try of the match in Shizuoka, is again named among Japan's replacements.

Leitch, who inspired the jaw-dropping 34-32 upset of South Africa at the 2015 World Cup that put Japanese rugby on the map, returns at blindside flanker to win his 66th cap in red and white.

Yu Tamura, whose silky playmaking skills and calm kicking paced Japan against Ireland, will make his 61st appearance for his country.

Japan won three matches four years ago but failed to reach the knockout stage. They began with a 30-10 win over Russia.

Another victory over Samoa would put them in a strong position to reach the quarter-finals for the first time before facing Scotland in their final Pool A game.

Japan (15-1)

Ryohei Nakayama; Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Lomano Lemeki; Yu Tamura, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (capt), Michael Leitch, James Moore, Wimpie van der Walt; Koo Ji-won, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki

Replacements: Shota Horie, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Uwe Helu, Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka