Japan v Scotland: brilliant hosts are deserving winners

There is consolation for Gregor Townsend's squad that they get to bow out of this World Cup on the pitch against an excellent side

Kenki Fukuoka of Japan celebrates his try against Scotland.
Kenki Fukuoka of Japan celebrates his try against Scotland. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
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Japan 28

Scotland 21

DAVID BARNES @ International Stadium Yokohama

THE two big consolations from a Scottish perspective are that: A – they went out of this World Cup the way any team should bow out of a major tournament, by losing on the field of play; and B – the team which knocked them out were  quite simply brilliant, playing with an accuracy and pace that could see them trouble South Africa in next Sunday’s quarter-final.

Scotland spent much of the week worrying about whether this game would go ahead in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, and that built-up anxiety was released in a pretty positive way during the opening few minutes when they took the game to Japan with real urgency and ambition – although that old issue with inaccuracy was also evident when Finn Russell’s grubber through was charged down, prompting a 60-yard foot race back to Scotland’s 22 which Tommy Seymour did exceptionally well to win.

Japan looked slightly hesitant, allowing a fairly simple high ball to bounce. And Scotland stunned the stadium by taking the lead on six minutes, with Russell making amends for his charged-down kick when he launched a sensational 40-yard diagonal which cut through Japan like a knife through butter.

Darcy Graham did well to pressurise Kotaro Matsushima until Magnus Bradbury arrived on the scene to snaffle the ball, and, after a few phases through the heavy forwards, Russell swooped from left to right behind a ruck to take Laidlaw’s pass and brush off a couple of pretty weak tackles on his way over the line.

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But Japan rebounded, and they had Scotland on the back foot, until Jamie Ritchie stole possession at a ruck right under the posts – literally two yards from his team’s line – and Greig Laidlaw cleared the danger.

Ritchie was into everything. He had already come out the line to make a great tackle a few minutes earlier, but he got on the wrong side of referee Ben O’Keeffe when competing at the tackle a few minutes later, and Scotland were lucky that Yu Tamura’s long-range shot at goal didn’t have the legs.

Unperturbed, Japan scored a try instead, with Graham left exposed on the right wing and the brilliant Timothy Lafaele pulling the Scots winger in before releasing Kenki Fukuoka on the outside, who in turn sent Kotaro Matsushima in for a try which lifted the lid of the stadium.

A few minutes later, after Asaeli Ai Valu had replaced the injured Jiwon Too at tight-head, Japan won a scrum penalty deep inside their own – and it is doubtful that there has ever been as loud a roar for a fairly minor refereeing decision in the history of rugby.

Japan’s tails were really up now, and they surged into the lead when Matsushima blasted past Grant Gilchrist and Bradbury to take play deep into Scottish territory, forcing a desperate last-gasp tackle from Seymour. There was a quick recycle and then Japan piled through the middle, with Tamura, Shota Horie and James Moore all offloading brilliantly out of contac,t before loose-head Keita Inagaki finished off under the posts.

Jonny Gray was reviewed by the TMO for a tackle on Horie, which might have been high, might have been no-arms and might have been late, but it didn’t quite fit the bill of any of those infringements and Japan had to make do with the scrum put-in.

Japan did get a penalty just before half-time, when Allan Dell was penalised for driving in at an angle, but Tamura’s shot at goal didn’t have the legs. Scots relief was short-lived, however, with Japan scoring their third – brilliant – try straight from the drop-out, with Lafaele angling in an excellent grubber and Fukuoka not breaking stride as he gathered the bouncing ball with one hand above his head and cruised to the line.

The half-time stats told a compelling story with Japan dominating possession by 79 percent to 21 percent. Scotland had made 112 tackles to their opponents making just 28.

If it wasn’t all over at the break, then it was by two minutes after he resumption, when Scotland were caught flat-footed by Japan’s incredible ferocity in defence and Chris Harris had possession ripped from him by Fukuoka, who somehow managed to gather the ball as squirted loose and dart home from 45 yards.

There was, to Scotland’s great credit, some real defiance. Ritchie charged through the middle, Hogg had a scamper, and after a couple more recycles WP Nel powered over from close range.

Gregor Townsend rolled the dice, but it wasn’t a gamble. He had nothing to lose. On came Blair Kinghorn, George Horne, Scott Cummings, squad captain Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid and Zander Fagerson, to try and conjure the hat-trick of converted tries and penalty Scotland needed to finish second in their pool. At least the first three of those names are part of an emerging breed of Scottish players who must now be allowed to continue their development on the international stage.

And the fresh faces had an immediate impact with Cummings carrying strongly, along with Gray, to break through the Japanese defensive line, and set up Fagerson for a score on the right. Only two tries and a penalty needed now.

Hogg thought he had tied the scores – remember Scotland needed to win by more than seven points – when he streaked home just after the hour mark, but there had been a forward pass from Peter Horne to Harris during the lead-up.

Harris also broke up the left from behind his own line, but his kick ahead bounced awkwardly over George Horne’s head.

Scotland were making a contest of it, and given the pace the first hour had been played at, it wasn’t a surprise that gaps were beginning to open up which the likes of Hogg, Russell and the irrepressible Harris worked hard to exploit, but they were having to play some pretty high-tempo and risky rugby, much of it behind the gain-line, and struggled to sustain the accuracy required.

There were thrills and spills right to the end. But there was only going to be one winner. The noise in the stadium was deafening at the final whistle, and for several minutes after. The Japan team thoroughly deserved the appreciation of their fabulous support.

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Teams –

Japan: W Tupou (R Yamanaka 51); K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura (R Matsuda 75), K Fukuoka; T Tumura, Y Nagare (F Tanaka 51); K Inagaki (I Nakajima 56), S Horie, J Koo (A Valu 21), L Thompson, J Moore (W Helu 66), M Leitch (H Tui 72), P Labuschagne, K Himeno.

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour (B Kinghorn 51), C Harris, S Johnson, D Graham (P Horne 63); F Russell, G Laidlaw (G Horne 51); A Dell (G Reid 51), F Brown (S McInally 51), W Nel (Z Fagerson 51), G Gilchrist (S Cummings 51), J Gray, M Bradbury (R Wilson 66), J Ritchie,  B Thomson.

Referee: B O’Keeffe

Scorers –

Japan: Tries: Matsushima, Inagaki, Fukuoka 2. Cons: Tumura 4.

Scotland: Tries: Russell, Nel, Fagerson. Cons: Laidlaw 2, Russell.

Scoring sequence (Japan first): 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, 19-7, 21-7 (half-time, 26-7, 28-7, 28-12, 28-14, 28-19, 28-21.

Attendance: 67,666

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About David Barnes 3038 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Japan were superb again and thoroughly deserved to go through.

    For Scotland, it’s a worrying pattern emerging. We’re dreadful first half, then seem to chuck the gameplan at half time and look like a different team. My feeling is that the players are being overcoached in some ways, and underprepared in others. There’s a lot of online talk about Townsend vs Cotter, but the rot really seems to have set in when Dan McFarland left.

    Hopefully we’ll see the coaching team learn lessons, young hungry players given a chance in place of the old guard, and Townsend will never again say “fastest rugby in the world” unless he’s talking about the side we just played against.

  2. Well played Japan. Good luck for the rest of the tournament. Glad for sport and for the country that the match was played, especiallyafter the horrors of the typhoon.
    Not hugely surprised our boys are on their way home. Something’s definitely not right. Surely this is potentially the best crop of players we’ve had in 20+ years yet we were never really in with a shout in the two crucial games.
    We were beaten by two exceptional teams but it’s a great shame that we can’t compete at this level with the players we undoubtedly have.

    • Sadly the SRU seem to be taking a leaf out of the SFA handbook. Wax lyrical about our world class players (70’s when we did have but still didnt qualify. Then 78!). Manage to get to some finals and get papped straight out.

      Scottish Rugby always saw it self as playing with the big boys and hoping to compete. We seem to have missed that others are getting better and can inflict real damage to us.

  3. Hugely disappointed with that performance. Fair play to Japan though. Outstanding skill and brilliant attacking nous.

    At least I’d the gave was called off we could have moshed about how we could have been contenders if only the gave was played. Well it was played and we came second.

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