DAVID BARNES in YOKOHAMA
GREGOR TOWNSEND says that he believes Scotland can bounce back from their early World Cup exit when the Six Nations kicks 0ff in just over three months’ time.
His side’s 28-21 defeat to host nation Japan in Yokohama earlier today left them third in Pool A, meaning they become only the second Scottish side ever – after Andy Robinson’s team in 2011 – to fall at the first hurdle in international rugby’s flagship competition.
It is a painful blow, but Townsend stressed that the team were always up against it after being burdened with playing their last two pool games – against Russia and Japan – just four days apart, which put an enormous stress on the squad.
“There’s a lot more in this team,” said Townsend. “Experiences are what make you as a group and how you react to those experiences. It was a unique situation we were in and we always knew it was going to be a challenge given our turnaround.
“But we had the team and we had the ability at the start of the game to go on and win it by the necessary amount of points. That we didn’t was hugely disappointing. We have to learn from that, and we’ve got to improve as we get to next tournament, the Six Nations.”
The coach added that the biggest emotion he felt in the aftermath of the Japan team was regret that the team failed to deliver to the standards they expect of themselves. “Over the piece we are disappointed that we were not able to win by more than eight points,” he said. “We started very well in attack and defence, but we didn’t see much of the ball for the rest of the first half. Partly due to the errors we made, but also due to what Japan were doing when they had the ball.
“Two tries from our perspective were soft,” he added. “Both from our possession, one from a 22 restart and another one the ball was ripped out. That happened either side of half-time and that made it very difficult for the result we were looking for.
“The players put a huge effort into the next ten to 15 minutes, and with 58 minutes gone we were only seven points behind. But we did not do enough to get the win.
“Of course, we came here with high aspirations and getting out of the pool stage. We have worked really hard throughout the last four months and throughout the tournament to go further than we did tonight. It is obviously very disappointing.”
Scotland also had to contend with a huge amount of uncertainty this week as to whether their final game would go ahead or would be cancelled (meaning they would be dumped out of the tournament) if the impact of Typhoon Hagibis rendered the International Stadium Yokohama unplayable. A final decision on whether the game would go ahead was only made just over seven hours before kick-off.
That was the case for both teams, but given that Japan would have gone through anyway if the game had been cancelled, the uncertainty surely weighed more heavily on Scottish minds. To Townsend’s credit, he refused to cite that as a mitigating factor, pointing out that his players started the match like a runaway train, with Finn Russell going over for the opening try in the sixth minute.
“The players acted very professionally,” he said. “We always believed the game was going to go ahead. We acted and behaved that way in our preparations.
“Yesterday was compromised and we had a quick turnaround – we knew this week was going to be challenge – but I look at how we started the game and that was an indication of where the players were in terms of their energy.
“After that, our errors gave Japan the ball and they made the most of that. They are on great form just now. The sign of a quality team is taking opportunities and they did that.
Praise for Japan
“They are a very cohesive group. You can tell they have been together for a long time. They know the game that they play and it suits their strengths. They play a really fast game and creating quick ball at the ruck is probably the best thing in their game.
“They execute their set-piece really well, they had pressure in the lineout, and they have some great ball-carriers in the forwards mixed in with the harder workers, they have players with real pace and confidence in the backline, and when you play tournament at home you maybe bring 10-20 per cent more.
“The confidence from their Ireland win was evident tonight. They will be a tough team to beat. It will be a tough game for South Africa [in the quarter-final]. They played [each other] a few weeks ago but score-line [41-7 to South Africa] was not the same as the performance because Japan had opportunities in the first half which they would have taken in their current form. And a couple of tries South Africa scored in the second half were through interceptions or errors.
“‘I believe opposition coaches have known for some while that Japan are a quality side. Their run of results going into that South Africa game was outstanding – dispatching Fiji, Tonga and USA.
“Beating Ireland who were ranked number one or two in the world at the time and beating us – they are a very good side. They cause you problems in a number of areas. They came down the short side which worked for them and in defence they come up really hard in the No 10 channel. Obviously, they are a very fit team as well.”